Talking God #9

January 8, 2011

GOD’S POWER

God’s power is infinite, eternal and unchangeable.  Our second big word for the evening is omnipotent.  He is the Lord God Almighty.  God is sovereign over all the universe.  There is no one telling him what he can and cannot do.  This has always been the case and always will be.  He can never become more powerful than he is now. 

Again there are plenty of scriptures to support this doctrine.  When the geriatric Sarah laughs at the stranger’s pronouncement that she will bear a son, the Lord says (Gen.18:14): Is anything too hard for the Lord?

When, in a different spirit, Mary asks Gabriel, how she could become pregnant since she is a virgin, the angel replies: Nothing is impossible with God. (Lk.1:37)

Jeremiah prays: Ah Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm.  Nothing is too hard for you. (Jer.32:17)

Now, when we say that God is omnipotent we do not mean that God can do anything!  There are things that God cannot do.  For a start, God cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature.  So he cannot lie (Heb.6:17,18); he cannot break a promise (2 Corinthians.1:20); he cannot change.  

Secondly, God cannot do the irrational.  He cannot make 2+2=5, he cannot make a boulder too heavy for him to lift; he cannot make a four-sided triangle or a square circle.  These are absurdities. 

Thirdly, God can never exhaust his power.  He could never not do what he wants to do. 

Conversely, there are certain things that he can do that he doesn’t; for example, ridding the world of sin and evil right now.  He has his own reasons for not doing so.  So when we say that God is omnipotent, that he is the Almighty God, we mean that he has the power to do what he wants to do.  There is nothing to hinder him putting his will into effect.  Ps.115:3: Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.

I think there are a lot of misunderstandings about the will of God.  Sometimes we can use the phrase “it’s God’s will” in a rather fatalistic manner.  There’s a helplessness, a hopelessness behind that phrase, a resignation. 

It is true that the Bible teaches us that behind everything that happens is the will of God.  The early church understood this.  Turn to Acts 4:27, which is the prayer of the disciples after they had been arrested for the first time for preaching that Jesus had risen from the dead.  As I read this to you think about every decision, every step that had to be taken by so many people before Jesus could have been crucified: Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in the city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.

What if Judas had changed his mind?  What if the Sanhedrin had refused to meet at night-time, for to do so was against their rules?  What if Herod had decided not to send Jesus back to Pilate; he would have been doing Pilate a favour? What if Pilate had had the courage to release an innocent man?  What if Barabbas hadn’t been waiting in death row? 

God willed the role played by every actor in the crucifixion drama; just as ultimately everything that happens is as a result of his will. 

Over the centuries Christian theologians have differentiated between God’s revealed will and God’s secret will.  God’s revealed will is what he tells us to do, his commands.  He has revealed that we are to love one another; that we are to honour our parents, that we are not to kill or steal from each other, and so on. 

However, there are stories in the Bible where it is apparent that there is more going on than meets the eye.  Take the story of Joseph, for example.  The revealed will of God told Joseph’s brothers not to harm him, not to make plans to murder him, not to sell him into slavery.  They disobeyed God’s will for them.  God’s revealed will for Potiphar’s wife was that she should be faithful to her husband.  She should not have tried to seduce Joseph; nor should she have lied about him attacking her.  God’s revealed will for Pharaoh’s cupbearer was that he should have remembered his promise to Joseph to mention his plight to Pharaoh. 

 All of these characters acted in breach of God’s revealed will for humanity.Yet at the very end of the story Joseph could say to his brothers—as he could have said to each of the others: Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  (Gen.50:19)

 If the brothers had not sold Joseph into slavery, they, and countless others, would have starved.  If Potiphar’s wife had not lied, Joseph would not have been in prison and would not have met the cupbearer.  If the cupbearer had remember him to Pharaoh when he said he would, Joseph might have been released, and would have been no where to be found when he was needed.

While the revealed will of God was broken time after time, the secret will of God was at work, for the saving of many lives.  He even uses sin to achieve his purposes.  Herman Bavinck uses this illustration: Just as a father forbids his child to touch a sharp knife even though he himself uses it without injury or damage, so God forbids us to sin though he himself is able to use and does use sin as a means to self-glorification.  (Doctrine of God p.240)

So then, when some tragedy befalls us—and we only have to live long enough for that to happen—we can truly say “it’s the will of God” and have the assurance that though we don’t understand why what’s happening is happening, and though it is heart-breaking, and though unbelievers will question our continuing faith, that the God who loves us, the God who works out all things for our good, is active.  He is not impotent.  He is omnipotent. 

 Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds ye so much dread/are big with mercy, and shall break, in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace./ Behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;/the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.  (Cowper)

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Talking God #8

January 8, 2011

GOD’S WISDOM

God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his wisdom. This means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means for achieving these goals.

We’ve been thinking about the wisdom of God in our morning services as we’ve studied 1 Corinthians 1. The ultimate goal to which God applies his wisdom is his glory. So, we see in his plan of redemption that he chose to save those who believe through Christ crucified. Foolishness to the world; but wisdom to God, because it ensures that no one can boast of their own merits. God’s wisdom is seen in our individual lives.

(Rom.8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose

And what is the good that the apostle is speaking about? It is, as he says in the next verse, that we should be conformed to the likeness of his Son. God’s purpose for his children is that we should be like Jesus.

Everything that happens to us is geared towards that ultimate conclusion. And that includes those things that we’d rather avoid. 1 Peter. 4:19: So then those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator, and continue to do good.

Within the attribute of God’s wisdom we include God’s knowledge. Last time we spoke about God’s omnipresence—that he is everywhere. Our new big word is omniscience—God knows everything. His knowledge is infinite, eternal and unchangeable.

His knowledge is infinite because there is nothing that God does not know. His knowledge is eternal because he has always known what he knows and always will. His knowledge is unchangeable because there is nothing unknown to him that he is yet to learn. God is at every moment aware of everything that ever was, or is now, or shall be in the future; and that’s the way it always has been.

He knows it all instantaneously and simultaneously. If you were to ask God how many grains of sand there are on the seashore or stars in the heavens he wouldn’t have to count them. He knows.

There is almost no end of scriptures to support this doctrine. One will do for the moment: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. (Heb.4:13)

God knows things which we would consider of the least significance. Jesus says (Mt.10:30) that not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from God’s will; and that he knows the number of hairs on our head. He knows what we’re going to say before we say it (Ps.139:2): Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. He knows what is going on in our hearts and minds. Ps.94:11: The Lord knows the thoughts of man, he knows that they are futile. He is a loving heavenly Father who knows what we need, even before we ask. (Mt.6:7,8): And when you pray do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. He knows the future. (Isa.44:7,8): Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people; and what is yet to come—yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago?

Once again, we assert that what is true about God is true of all three persons of the Holy Trinity. There’s plenty of evidence of Jesus’ omniscience. He knew what his enemies were thinking. He knew that Lazarus had died. He knew that Judas would betray him. He knew that he would be arrested by the chief priests and handed over to the Romans for execution. He also knew that he would rise on the third day.

Question: if God knows everything, if he knows the future, if he knows what I am going to say before I say it, does that not destroy my free will? After all, if God knows exactly what is going to happen then it sounds as if everything is pre-determined and there is no such thing as free will. This is really a question about the sovereignty of God, and, indeed, predestination. And I hope to cover this more fully at some future date. But let’s just think about this for a moment.

Some theologians are so determined to protect the idea of human free will that they are willing to suggest that God, in fact, is not omniscient, not all-knowing. They argue that we ourselves don’t know what we’ll do in any given situation, so how can God? They are happy to believe in a God who learns, who grows, who develops, along with creation. This makes the future as much a mystery to God as it is to us and is clearly contrary to what the Bible teaches. There are others who try to find a middle path. They argue that as human beings we act with complete freedom and independence. But God is never taken by surprise and his plans are never upset, because he has taken into account every possible eventuality, every permutation of human action and has decided how he will act in any given situation. Although he doesn’t know precisely what I’ll do, he has all the options covered, and knows how he will respond no matter what I do.

The problem with this is that it makes God dependant on our decisions, our choices. God is constantly responding to us. In effect, God stops being God. He is no longer sovereign over all. If we are going to be Biblical, if we are going to be consistent, then we have to acknowledge that if God knows all our thoughts, words, and actions, before they occur, then there is a sense in which our choices are not absolutely free. Yes, there seems to be freedom of the will; but somehow that freedom is incorporated within God’s perfect will.

I’ve just returned from the Crieff Fellowship New Year Conference.  This year Sinclair Ferguson gave four talks expounding Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Not to put too fine a point upon it, Sinclair was at his best.  In culinary terms this was prime beef at its most tender, most edible.  Quality that was a joy to digest.

I have preached Philippians twice but listening to Sinclair makes me wonder if I have ever even read the book.  Let me give you some juicy morsels:

From chapter 1 – thanksgiving is characteristic of Paul – but this is not always true of Christian ministers.

Paul prays that the Philippians will be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.  We need to keep the end, the judgment in sight.  The pastor’s job is to prepare his people for the end.

Paul’s attitude to those who preached the gospel out of rivalry – is my ministry what’s most important to me, or is it the gospel? Paul is not defined by his ministry but by God’s designs for him.  To live is Christ, to die is gain. 

From 1:29 – suffering is as much a gift of grace as faith.  Suffering is subservient to the gospel.

From chapter 2 – there was a lot about how the imperatives (the commands) flow from the indicatives (the facts).  Thus the command for unity flows from the fact of Christ’s humility. 

To love Christ is to hate any misdescription of him. 

Christ’s obedience to the Father increased over his life – he was at his most obedient on the cross. 

Fear and trembling – we are so superficial that we fail to tremble at the love of God. 

Grumbling is one of the most destructive dangers for the church. 

The secret of unity is humility. 

Most profound of all to my mind – from chapter 4 – Rejoice in the Lord – I am here to bring joy.  My aim is to produce this Christ-ful joy in my people.  This is the funnel through which I want to pour out my ministry this year.  May it be a Ministry of Joy!

2010 in review

January 3, 2011

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,500 times in 2010. That’s about 18 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 13 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 194 posts.

The busiest day of the year was January 2nd with 76 views. The most popular post that day was PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were kirkmuirhillchurch.co.uk, coffeewithlouis.wordpress.com, calvinismmotorcycles.blogspot.com, mail.yahoo.com, and annedroid-annedroid.blogspot.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for kirkmuirhill rev, kirkmuirhillrev, kirkmuirhill church, luke 18 1-8, and rip clipart.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

PARABLE OF THE PERSISTENT WIDOW June 2009

2

Presbyterianism – RIP September 2009
7 comments

3

THE SHIELD OF FAITH January 2009
1 comment

4

Good luck, touch wood, insh-allah February 2010
2 comments

5

Easter Sermon: Privilege and Responsibility April 2009
1 comment