Spirituality

Finally, the “A” Part of this Q&A Blog (Predestination)

As I continue with this blog, I am recognizing something that should have been obvious to me from the get-go: Forming the questions is easy – taking the time to really explore the answers is much more time consuming and difficult. Hehehe. Maybe I just thought no one would actually read this stuff! But I really do want this to be a learning experience and not just a forum for me to spout. 🙂 Therefore, I’ll be revisiting some of my previous questions periodically to address the incredibly thoughtful and educated answers some of you have provided. If you can bear with these more detailed posts and provide further feedback or references, I’d very much appreciate it!

Today, I’ll take another look at predestination. (If you want to read the original post or comments for context, just click on my last post on the right-hand side of your screen. The comments are at the bottom.) There are a number of verses in scripture that speak to apparent predestination – God choosing some of us for Heaven and others for Hell. Romans 9:18-23 is a very interesting passage and verse 23 speaks of God preparing some “…in advance for glory…” I also questioned verses that refer to God hardening hearts or sending people “delusions” that they should believe something false.

One commenter (biblecommentaries) made the very interesting assertion that “A difficult teaching cannot be correct if it contradicts one which is easy to be understood.” However, some of the verses that confuse me are really not so complicated except when considered against other verses. Take, for example Romans 9:18: “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” Not hard to understand, but the idea that God would actively prevent anyone from seeing truth is very difficult for me to accept and seems contrary to the overall message of the New Testament.

The consensus among my two commenters concerning my questions about 2 Thessalonians 2: 8-13 (this passage concerns God sending “delusions” to some after they reject Him so that they would believe in false things) was that He allows them to be deceived. But I think there’s a big difference between “allowing” and “sending.” The verse seems to state very clearly that God is the one making it so (2 Thessalonians 2:11). This is one of those passages that makes me wish I could read the original language! Insight anyone? Biblecommentaries’ comment also pointed to specific context, which I can certainly appreciate. The passage in Thessalonians appears to be about the end of time and should be considered within that framework.

Biblecommentaries’ view is that we become predestined for heaven after accepting Christ. She referenced Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This verse, however, doesn’t speak to me about the issue of predestination. She talked about predestination as one of those blessings mentioned, but I don’t see how that tells us when it is bestowed. Does anyone have other verses that would speak more specifically to this issue?

So, after exploring the answers provided I must confess I haven’t yet found quite what I’m looking for when it comes to predestination. This issue still confuses me.

While I respectfully and maybe incorrectly disagree with my commenters concerning the scripture about God sending delusions and hardening hearts, I did find an absolutely beautiful passage in Romans that gave me peace on the issue. I hope you can take similar joy and fulfillment from it: 

In this passage, Paul is speaking about the inclusion of gentiles as God’s children. Romans 11:17-24

  • 17But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing rootc of the olive tree, 18do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. 19Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

 

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Spirituality

Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians – A Mini Series Part III

I’m taking a break from a teething baby and a busy week to update the blog with my final Thessalonians post. My questions this morning revolve around predestination. I’ve never taken a side on this issue, but I have a hard time with it! What are your thoughts? I’ll start with scripture. I’ve highlighted the portions that I have questions about. 2 Thessalonians 2: 8-13 states:

  • 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruitsd to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.

I know this question is not original, but I still struggle with it.  How do predestination and free will exist together in harmony? The New Testament tells us that salvation is within our reach if we accept Jesus. But it is also peppered with verses that seem to indicate that some people are simply destined for Hell. Notably, Romans 8:29-30 specifically references predestination. In verse 11 above, I’m particularly intrigued by the idea that God actually prevents certain people from seeing the truth. I realize that these are people who had already refused God, but considering the number of born-again Christians who also have refused God at some point in their lives, this seems strange. Romans gives us another example of this: Romans 9:18-23:

  • So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”h 21Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—

I’m not questioning God’s prerogative, only wondering if Christianity has softened some of the harder truths. It also occurs to me that if in fact some people were “…prepared for destruction…” perhaps the “hardening” or “delusion” that God imposes on those individuals is merciful. Okay, I’m starting to free-associate a bit…

I think the problem for me boils down to morality. I believe that my moral compass, the intuitive instinct for right and wrong, comes from God (if you want an interesting argument that supports that statement, check out Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis). I also think that it isn’t always that simple, but, when I consider that same God creating people with thoughts and feelings only to subject them to eternal suffering, well…. let’s just say it doesn’t seem “right.”

So, thanks for reading! I’m looking forward to the usual comments that make my questions seem positively dense. 🙂 Truly, thank you to everyone who has commented on my posts. It has been really enlightening!

Spirituality

Could You Please be More Specific? (back to Thessalonians with my next post)

I believe that the Bible can buttress and enhance the efforts of a sincere heart to discern the best way to live one’s life. But does anyone else ever get frustrated with what the Bible doesn’t say? When I read scripture, I find myself dissecting it and analyzing it. Partly because I enjoy it, but it occurred to me yesterday that perhaps another reason for that is because I’m desperately hoping for more personal answers if I just dig deep enough. Sometimes I think that the kind of pulling apart and analyzing I’m inclined toward can distract from the big picture, but mostly I figure if it stimulates thought and conversation about beliefs and ideals, it isn’t a bad thing.

I wish there were a different kind of map. “The Holy Atlas of How and Why,” perhaps. My hunch is that it’s already been published, tattooed on all of our souls, but why does it have to be written in Sanskrit??? Maybe I should explain my difficulty better. As an example, the Bible tells me that I should let God take my worries, my burdens. “Let go and let God” is an expression I’ve heard. Okay. But how? Scripture isn’t so forthcoming about that. I’ve prayed and prayed for help in letting go, for God to take my fear, or feelings of oppression and yet I find myself yanking them back. It seems like that fear is forever nibbling away at the edges of my consciousness. Why do I do that and how can I stop? I don’t think it is lack of faith; I don’t doubt God’s ability or willingness.

Is it really within my power to banish these feelings? Maybe I simply have to wait for God to answer this prayer in whatever way he chooses. Again, scripture doesn’t get specific. It doesn’t give us a time frame. I can’t help thinking it might be nice to read a verse that says something like, “So, if you give up all your nasty feelings to God at 1:30pm, they should be completely gone by 2:00.”  🙂 Or does letting go simply mean accepting the fear (or whatever else you might be trying to let go) and taking comfort in the knowledge that you’re not alone, that you don’t have to take it on by yourself? I can say with complete probity that I’ve done that, but the fear remains. Maybe it’s supposed to be there. Who am I to say?

My prayer today is for quietness of mind and spirit and for a little clarity; a mental clearing of the cobwebs.

I was looking for a passage to close this entry and found Lamentations chapter 3 oddly comforting and challenging all at once. Below I’ve included verses 25-33.

  • The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
    26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
    27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.
    28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
    29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope;
    30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
    and let him be filled with insults.
    31 For the Lord will not
    cast off forever,
    32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
    33 for he does not willingly afflict
    or grieve the children of men.

 

Spirituality

Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians – A Mini Series Part II

As I was reading through 2 Thessalonians, I started wondering about what scripture really says about being judgmental. There are numerous verses throughout the New Testament that directly state that we should not judge others, and yet I’ve found others that seem to blur the line. I find myself constantly battling the tendency to judge others and I hate it. At the same time, though, is that not part of our ability to differentiate right from wrong? Isn’t it a byproduct of instinct? So, how do we apply the scriptural admonitions to avoid judging others? The passage below is probably not the best or most obvious example, but it still got me thinking about this problem.

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:11-15: 11For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.13As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. 14If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. 15Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

Reading this passage, my thought was that Paul was being awfully judgmental… and instructing others to be the same. It seems to me the exhortation to have nothing to do with idle people and make them feel ashamed (punish them, in a sense) requires that one first judge that idle person. Compare to Romans 2: 1-5 (also, of course, written by Paul):

  • 1Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

There is nothing wishy-washy about the words “…no excuse…. every one of you who judges.” This verse embodies the theme I’ve always taken from Christianity on the subject of judgment. It makes sense to me to leave it to God. Since we all fall short, we can hardly point fingers. Maybe there is a difference between passing judgment on someone and passing judgment on their actions? This one really confuses me, and likely I’m being incredibly obtuse. What is your take? Where do we draw the line?

Spirituality

Paul’s Letters to the Thessalonians – A Mini Series

Over the next few days, my posts are going to address questions that I have after reading Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.

Today I’m talking death – or more specifically, post-death. I grew up believing that when you die you go to Heaven or to Hell immediately. I know that different denominations believe different things on this matter, but I’m curious to know if scripture supports one theory more heavily. Before I get into this I should state that it doesn’t actually matter much to me. Yes, the issue piques my interest, but in the end, I don’t think it is terribly important. I know that this can be an issue of real contention for some, though, so please feel free to leave a comment about your own feelings and why you believe what you believe.

  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: 13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

From this passage, I understand “…those who have fallen asleep…” to mean those who are dead. I also feel like the meaning is pretty straightforward: When we die, we remain “asleep” until the coming of Lord. But, doesn’t this contradict Luke 23:43, when Jesus promises paradise to one of the criminals who was beside him during the crucifixion?

  • And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Or are we to understand that as an exception to the rule? A special case? What do you think? Any other scriptures of interest? The other thing I wonder about is the concept of time after death. Perhaps the passage from Thessalonians can be viewed through a different lens if we don’t subject it to our understanding of time.

Thanks for reading! Hope everyone is having a wonderful weekend. 🙂

Spirituality

This probably seems off-topic, but…

I have a question for you. While it isn’t directly spiritual, it is weighing on me in the same way that spiritual matters do (and I apologize in advance for the rambling nature of this post!).

Do you ever find that you enjoy the idea of something or the anticipation of it more than the actual thing? Just as an example, I love the idea of writing. I love the idea of a beautiful pen and the sound it makes moving over a rough piece of paper. I love the way the ink looks and all the related smells. I even love the idea of typing – the raspy click sound, the feel and the way my fingers look whether hesitating or moving assuredly over the keys. But somehow, when I’m actually writing, I forget to take that fullness from the experience.

Why do we romanticize things the way we do? Or why does fulfillment of our goals not lead to similar fulfillment of our souls? I can’t help but feel sometimes that desire is an almost useless evolutionary leftover. Almost. I can understand it as a survival instinct. It motivates us to go on. But as our lives become more complex and the things we need are more easily obtained, is it possible our desires become more trivial? Particularly in a country that enjoys so much excess. Today we don’t need to focus our desire on food, because it is so easily procured. More food than we could ever hope to eat is shrink wrapped and waiting in a cavernous store five minutes from everywhere. Instead of warmth, we might desire a carved headboard and a down comforter. I’m not saying this is necessarily wrong. I think beauty and innovation can be truly wonderful things – but I, at least, have a hard time enjoying life to the fullest. I seek God and think ultimate fulfillment comes from God, but in the meantime – has anyone grappled with this problem and come to any kind of conclusion? Thanks for reading!

Spirituality

Trust

Yesterday I had a little revelation about trust. I don’t know if this will make sense to anyone or not, but I feel like documenting it, so here goes:

I said a prayer yesterday in which I asked God to use me and work through me however He sees fit. Not a new prayer for me, but the next words that came to mind (I tend to pray silently) were “I trust You.” I don’t recall ever saying that before, simply because it hasn’t occurred to me. “Place your trust in God” is a phrase I hear all the time and I think maybe it had become a bit… benign for me. But I prayed those words and they struck me in a new and deeper way. I thought, here I am telling this unknowable, supernatural being, “Yes, I’m willing to have You take me over, willing to be an instrument of Your truly frightening power, because I trust that You won’t hurt me or anyone else in the ways that count; that You will, in fact, enrich my life if I can surrender it.”

Not that I have or ever had any control over how God chooses to use me, but a willingness to relinquish that control, to do things that are the will of someone else is really something in my world. While I try to be respectful toward the authority figures in my life and have learned to say the right words and follow instructions, I confess that I very much resent being told what to do and usually withhold some of myself. But it’s funny – I never realized that I react the same way toward God.