Discussion: Does God’s Hidden Will make Him Duplicitous?

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law. – Deuteronomy 29:29

Whilst I was studying systematic theology last year I came across a concept that I still spend some time thinking about randomly even today. It is the concept of God’s hidden will.

From my, albeit limited, understanding. God presents His will to us in two different ways. 1) By revealing it. 2) By hiding it. It is a concept that provides us with a framework and understanding for why evil happens, when there exists an all-powerful, all-good, and all-loving God. For example:

Revealed Will: You shall not murder
Hidden Will: People do murder, but I intend to turn it for my glory, the good of the Church and the salvation of the lost.

In this example we can see that God’s revealed will is that man should not murder each other. This is what God wants, just as He wants no man to perish in hell (2 Peter 3:9). Since this is not the case, men do murder each other and men do frequently reject the offer of eternal life, we must conclude that God has a Hidden will. Especially when we consider that all God’s plans do succeed (Isaiah 14:24), and that from a logical point of view, a god who could not accomplish his intentions would be no god.

Hence the concept of God’s hidden will.

Another way to understand it is:
Revealed will: how we should behave (e.g. make disciples, love our neighbours, turn the other cheek)
Hidden will: God’s ability to distribute grace when we fail.

We are not called to know or even act upon His hidden will. Rather we are called to have faith that His hidden will is also Good, Sovereign, Loving, and Powerful. We must believe without seeing. This requires faith.

  1. We know (Revealed will) that God desires no one to perish, and all to come to Him for salvation…and yet (Hidden will) God has predestined some chosen few to come to faith in Him. Since we do not know who, and it is not for us to know, we ought to be relentless in our obedience to Matthew 28’s great commission (to make disciples of all nations)
  2. To violate His revealed will in our actions is sin, and is therefore punishable. Even though His is powerful enough and intends to work it for His good.
  3. We should pray with sensitivity to His willingness, not His goodness, love or power, which He has revealed to us.

Therefore, God’s hidden will does not make Him duplicitous but rather:

  1. Demonstrates His graciousness towards us, who frequently disobey and fall short of even His revealed will.
  2. Demonstrates His sovereignty and power in the midst of legitimate free will and rebellion.
  3. Demonstrates His justice in His judgements, since He has told us exactly what He requires from us.

Praying like Jacob

I stumbled across the following prayer from Genesis 32:9-12 last week, where Jacob is talking to God about a family reunion his is dreading with his older brother Esau. For those who don’t know, when the two brothers were younger, Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright as a firstborn son. Later on, Jacob would then deceive his father into giving him the blessing of the firstborn. Leaving Esau out of pocket and furious.

Jacob fled, and started a new life, married and had kids, but knew that the time had come for him to come home.

Maybe we have something dreaded around the corner, whether its family or work-related. But we might find encouragement and guidance in the prayer of Jacob.

  • Recognition and Worship: Oh God of my father Abraham and Isaac. When we start we can remember who God is, that He is personal and intimate with us. He is also God over us. Too often we dive straight into petition, and our faith is weaker, because we do not first remember Who it is that we are speaking to. Somehow, faith arises in us when we recall Who God is.
  • Gratitude: I am unworthy of all the kindeness and faithfulness you have shown me. Similarly our faith increases when we recall God’s goodness to us. I was recently reading a Puritan Prayer which started similarly:
  • Plea/Petition: Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother.
  • Honesty: For I am afraid he will come and attack me and my children. I think we are often scared to be honest with God in our prayers. Honest about our doubts, our sins, our failings and actually our feelings. But God is big enough, and He delights that we can come to Him honestly. This is one of the reasons Christ died for us, so He could meet us where we are at.
  • Holding to the promise: But You have said “I will surely make you prosper”… There are so many promises in the bible we can hold to and present to God in prayer. May we find verses of promise in His Word that give us hope in prayer.

Downsizing Word Output

“Our instinct is too often to speak of everything we know, as if doing so is the only way to authenticate ourselves”.

“Talking too quickly, too much, and too cleverly is [oftentimes] destructive…the spiritual men and women I’ve come to admire were generally quiet-spirited and more silent than verbose”

It is probably ironic that on a blog, where it is my job to write, monologues of thoughts, I am recommending speaking less. Nevertheless, words are powerful and good, God-created and utilised by Him. Words are not the problem. Too many of them, used at the wrong time, in the wrong way – that is the problem.

How can we downsize our word output:

  • Ask more questions
  • Listen (to the person in front of us, as well as the Spirit of God who loves both of us)
  • Renounce fixing as a way of life – so often we are tempted to be the problem solvers in people’s lives. Rather than to be the people who sit with them in the midst of suffering.

Our opinion, our endorsement, our rebuke is often much less needed than our Presence.

The Bible agrees that we ought to downsize our word output: with God (Psalm 46:10, Ecclesiastes 5:1-3) and with Man (Job 2:13, James 1:19).

In fact when we look at one of the first interactions with God and man, we see that God is a man who asks questions before He speaks, judges, vindicates and promises (Genesis 3-4).

Why do I pursue God’s heart?

I’ve been taking a course online over the last month and a bit, and I hit a bit of a wall. In the course we are taught a little about The Dark Night of the Soul, a season in life where we find very little pleasure in pursuing God’s heart. We may be reading our Bible, praying, worshipping, going to Church and all of this, but to be frank it is: tough going.

We just don’t feel like it.

One of the aims of the course is to explore the purpose of these seasons and help believers understand the work God is doing. So we can be encouraged and encourage others.

The course guides us to consider that God is weaning us of the ‘pursuit of spirituality for pleasure’s sake’.

It is here that I hit a wall. So I stopped reading and started thinking through why this troubled me.

It wasn’t long before I identified my main obstacle.

Belief 1 (from before the course): God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
Belief 2 (from the course): Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature.

So how can I reconcile these beliefs, are they compatible. Is one true and one wrong. What does wisdom say? Pen and paper out, Bible opened up.

I wrote down the beliefs more fully on a notepad:

Belief 1: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Therefore, God promises pleasure to those who pursue Him (Psalm 16:11)
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake is immature. Therefore, God uses seasons of “Desolation” to teach us to pursue Him for His sake rather than pleasure. (James 1:2-3)

Then I asked myself some questions: What motivates me to pursue God? What should motivate me? What do I want to motivate me? Is there scripture to back up these reasons.

  1. I pursue God for my sake and He is glorified in this (Exodus 33:12-19)
  2. I pursue God because it is Right and He has taught/convinced me of this (therefore I cannot boast!) (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)
  3. I pursue God for His Glory’s sake and His glory fills the earth (Isaiah 6:3-8)

Perhaps both beliefs are true, and yet, incomplete without each other. I would phrase slightly differently to demonstrate this:

Belief 1: God is glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him, He is gracious to fulfil His promises of pleasure to those who pursue Him.
Belief 2: Pursuing God for pleasure’s sake alone is immature, though it is not necessarily wrong. Oftentimes, God will uses seasons of desolation/dark night of the soul, to teach us to pursue Him for His glory’s sake.

I hope this helped. Why do you pursue God’s heart?

Why I will listen to Bethel Music

In-house, Christian-matters. I don’t usually agree to post Christian debate issues on my blog, because I don’t think it’s actually helpful or encouraging. In this case I will because 1) my blog’s not popular enough, 2) the debate is happening anyway, 3) I think I’m writing towards a peaceful resolution between the two sides. And 4) I have been asked about this several times by other Christians and find myself having to rethink it all again – it is much easier to have it written in one place.

There is a bit of a hot debate going around some Christian circles and websites at the moment. And it’s one I’ve had to give some thought to because of a particular preacher I listened to several times each week during my teenage years.

It’s a strain of the prosperity gospel (as defined that God wants to bless you, with health, wealth and happiness), which is based on faith. Most prosperity gospel have their roots in blatant legalism – “Do good, get good”.

This faith-based prosperity gospel, says – “believe and get good”. Implying, when bad happens, it’s because you don’t believe enough, or you’re not “claiming” it in faith. Also implying, it’s always God’s will to answer your prayers – provided you believe.

(Aside from the common obvious points that several of Jesus’ prayers were not answered with ‘yes’…”Father let this cup pass from me”, “Father I pray that the Church would be united in love, that they would be one as We are one”…. [For more read: God on Mute – Pete Greig]. )

Popular churches that seem to espouse this teaching include: Bethel, Hillsong and a lot of the GodTV cast. Since Bethel and Hillsong also write a large fraction of the worship music out there, a common response is to stop playing their music at churches etc.

The reason being 1) they don’t want to financially support ministries with false teaching, 2) they don’t want to encourage new believers to seek out false teachers 3) they want to protect their flock.

All pretty legit reasons.

Here are some of my counter thoughts though:

1) Jesus, when confronted by his disciples complaining about people casting out demons in His name, responded: “whoever is not against us is for us”. I do not honestly believe that the majority of people in these churches, are opposed to Christ. (Furthermore, I don’t think it is my job to determine that.) Matthew 12:30-42

2) Paul writes, that no one can claim (and mean that) Jesus is Lord without the help of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:3 . I know this is a loose application, and that there are false teachers who can claim this. But I think we may be underestimating the truth of this passage to dismiss such worship leaders so quickly.

3) God consistently uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. Some of the people God has used throughout scripture and history, have had enormous doctrinal flaws. Consider the precious puritans and their slave ships. Consider Paul, the worst of sinners. Consider me!

4) Not all worship music, and not all prayer, needs to be doctrinally sound. A quick perusal through the Psalms reveal prayers and songs that were not “theologically correct”. Is it Psalm 137 that talks about the happy man being the one who dashes infants against rocks.

Prayer and worship is about coming honestly before God with our true selves, bringing it before Him knowing we are loved and accepted. If we start censoring songs and prayers, don’t we encourage people to only present their “best self” to God. Isn’t this one of those things that Jesus came to set us free from?

5) Paul writes in Philippians, “it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love…the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble…But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, CHRIST IS PREACHED. And because of this I rejoice.” (2:15-18)

I’m not fussed if Hillsong and Bethel are making a lot of money, or even if this is their primary motive, IF their songs lead people to Christ. I rejoice. Personally, I have encountered God’s presence whilst listening to their music, and I know many have been encouraged to the Father’s arms via “Mighty to Save”, “Oceans”, “No longer a slave to fear”…

6) Linked to this is, my lack of concern about money going to these mega churches, that have dodgy teaching. All money belongs to God, He can reduce empires and build them up. As a matter of interest, do the Christian who refuse to listen to bethel, also refuse to buy clothes made in sweatshops, coffee that isn’t fair trade, computers from large tech companies. Micah 6. It seems a little showy and divisive to make a stand only in regards to music.

Furthermore, since God owns all the money, and gives all the authority and platforms…(see Jesus when He tells Pilate that the authority he has is only from God). Do we trust Him.

7) There is a measurement of conscience, love and faith in this. See 1 Cor 8 and Romans 14. In short, (I’ve explored in another blog post), Paul talks about how knowledge can be used to puff up, or can be used in love. He talks about eating meat offered to idols, and how it may be right for some to eat, and it may be right for some to abstain…depending on their conscience, faith and love.

There is a cutting line here: “Whatever is not from faith is sin”. If we can’t eat meat offered to idols, listen to music produced by Bethel with a clear conscience then we shouldn’t. If we can’t listen to Hillsong’s songs, without causing our fellow believers to stumble than we should abstain. Will we let love and conscience impact how we carry out our faith.

8) Jesus said “my sheep know my voice”. Do we trust that this is true? Yes, there is a place for warning against the wolf-like false teachers. But there is also a place for trust that those who are God’s children can recognise His voice.

9) Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it”. Do we trust that this is true? When it comes to false teaching and heresy and people’s faith, we often work ourselves into a state where fool ourselves into believing we care more about this all than God does. No, God cares, and He hates lies. I don’t mean to belittle the impact of false teaching and lies. I love scripture and God’s truth, it is my life!

Just as the prophet declared about the early Church… “Therefore in the present case I advise you: leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” Acts 5:38-39

Whatever you do…

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Have been reading through 1 Corinthians this week and one of the things that stood out to me was these verses in Chapter 10. It’s connected to chapter 9 and 7 and displays a lot of Paul’s attitude towards his work. I was challenged in my attitude towards work.

One of my dreams is to preach the gospel, like Spurgeon, many times throughout the week. I love to encourage people with God’s word and in their walk with Jesus. And if that was my full time job, I’d do it out of hours and wouldn’t worry about working ‘unpaid’ overtime.

So why don’t I consider my work with Cancer Research in such a way? Am I not supposed to be doing that work as unto the Lord? Am I not supposed to be seeking God’s glory in whatever position God calls me to? Married or single, slave/servant or freeman, employed or self-employed?

And so, I have been praying about what does it look like to carry out my life as it stands – today – as unto the Lord. And my thoughts:

  • Going the extra mile
  • Working overtime
  • Honouring my employer when their watching and when their not

In a sense, I want to steward the job I have now well in my early 20s as how I would if I was working full time for a church. I want to work as diligently as an employee for Cancer Research as if I was a missionary for Reach Across.

My aim isn’t to switch job, change my circumstances, but to glorify God.

1 Corinthians 7:

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

Receiving Romans 8

I am Righteous.
I am not condemned any longer.
I have been given life.
I have been set free from sin and death.
The righteous requirement of the law has been fully met in me because: I live according to the Spirit.

I have my mind set on what the Spirit desires.
I have my mind governed by the Spirit.
My mind is life and peace.
My mind is a friend of God and is no longer hostile to Him.
My mind is able to submit to God’s law – and it does.

I please God!

The Spirit of God lives in me!
I have Him!
I belong to Christ!
Christ is in me!

Even though my body is subject to death – I have received life because of righteousness.
My body will be raised because His Spirit is in me.
I put to death the misdeeds of the body.
I will live!

I am lead by the Spirit.
I am a Child of God.
I am not a slave to fear.
I am adopted to son ship.
I cry “Abba Father!”

I am an heir of God.
I am a co-heir with Christ.
The Spirit, The Holy Spirit himself, testifies as much!
I share in His sufferings.
I will share in His glory – it will be revealed in me!

I have the first fruits of the Spirit.
And I groan inwardly as I eagerly wait
This is the hope I have, and it saves me.
I hope and wait patiently.

I am helped in my weaknesses by the Spirit.
He intercedes for me!
He searches my heart.
He intercedes for me according to God’s will.

God is working for my good.
I love Him!

I have been called according to His purpose.
God foreknew me.
He predestined me to be conformed to the image of Christ.
He called me.
He justified me.
He will glorify me.

God is for me!
Who can stand against me?
He will give me all things!
Who will bring any charge against me?
He has justified me.
Who will condemn me?
No one!

Nothing will separate me from the love of God!
I am a super-conqueror through Him loved me and gave Himself for me.

Amen

The Promises are true!

Just a quick post…today has been an exhausting day. To be honest the whole week has felt pretty stressful. A lot on at work at the moment and a lot of problems along the way…

And I got back from the office after work, dead minded, tired, wiped out, physically and mentally drained…etc. And the thought randomly occurred (#TheSpiritRemindedMe): “Those who wait on the Lord renew their strength.

In that moment I had a choice. Do I switch the TV on, put an audio book on and numb the exhaustion with “rest”. Or do I fetch my Bible from my home desk, pull out a chair and sit in the garden and wait on the LORD?

I chose the later option.

I decided to test the promise…

And I found it true.

He does renew the strength of those who hope in Him. Hopefully this post can remind me next time.

Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

How do we know that God exists?

This week see’s us start part 2 of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. So far we’ve covered The Doctrines of the Word of God. And now, we are looking at the Doctrines of God.

My mentor once told me, systematic theology studies are usually divided over what to look at first. God or the Bible. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Theology is, by definition, the study of God. So intuitively we may assume the Doctrine of God should be studied first. However, since Systematic Theology is our knowledge about God as defined by the whole of scripture, it is important that we establish what Scripture claims for itself first.

In short, it doesn’t really matter, and there is a lot of overlap.

Reading chapter 9, felt a little like re-visiting my RE classes back in secondary school.

Wayne Grudem outlines four main approaches to believing God’s existence.

1) Our inner sense of God (which is intensified by the Holy Spirit for Christians, and alluded to in Scripture – see Romans 1:19,21,25)

2) The Evidence of God in Scripture and Nature (we are told the heavens declare God’s glory, that the seasons of fruitfulness demonstrate His mercy – see Acts 14:17 & Psalm 19:1)

3) The Traditional proofs – these were covered for most students in Religious Studies classes at school. A quick google search will find good elaborations on them. (Sorry I don’t have time now to re-hash them!) They included the Comological Argument (First Cause), Teleological Argument (Intelligent Design), Ontological Argument (The “Greatest” thing must be real in order to be the “greatest”) and the Moral Argument (see point 1).

Interestingly, Grudem concedes that these traditional arguments are true whether we are convinced by them or not. But that, they themselves, cannot bring to saving faith the lost. This is because of the Doctrine of the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture.

4) Finally, we are told that only God can overcome our sin (which blinds us) and enable us to be persuaded by His existence. 1 Corinthians 1:21 reminds us that human wisdom is inadequate, we are dependent on Him to bring us life.

Please see my notes below: