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.

At a crossroads

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

Whether we are in a mid-life crises, or choosing what to buy in our weekly food shop. I think many Christians would benefit from the advice of this verse.

How often do we stop, look and ask for directions from God. How often do we consider the decisions we make, whether they are financial, time-related, work, relationship, family related. Do we stand still? Do we look at the possibilities? Do we ask God for direction?

If we don’t is it surprising that we don’t experience rest for our souls?

Stand at the crossroads. This means stop walking. Stop going on without thinking. Stop and stand. How often in the Bible, God commands His people to stand firm. In fact in one place He says, don’t fight, this battle is not yours, simply stand firm. Elsewhere, God tells us to don the armour of spiritual warfare and stand firm. When the breath of God enters the army of dry bones, what do they do? Advance? No, they ‘stood on their feet’. Stand.

And look. So often we are oblivious to the many options presented to us. But after, even a short while of observation, we can see many roads and directions ahead of us. We must be careful not to be overwhelmed by ‘decision fatigue’. But at the same time, we may end up fatigued by staying on the incorrect path. Look.

Ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is. Do we do this? Do we invite God to direct us in the small decisions as well as the big ones? I challenge you today, to try asking God whenever a decision presents itself, however small. You may hear nothing, you may be directed in an unusual way. But take the time to ask. What time shall I wake up tomorrow? Which route shall I take to work? What should be my first words to colleagues? Shall I have lunch or shall I fast? Does God want me to call anyone on my commute home? How shall I spend my evening? Is there a part of the Bible I need to re-read tonight? Etc etc. Ask.

Finally, we need to – walk in it. So often, it is easy to hear God’s word and direction and to ignore it. No this promise is tied, undeniably, not just to stopping, looking, asking but also to obeying. The promise of rest for our souls is based in part on our obedience to God’s direction. Just like the wise man who built his house on the rock, is like the man who not only hears Jesus’ words, but also ‘puts them into practice’. Walk in it.

Blessings

Faith mixed with Revelation

Genesis 6:22 says that Noah did everything just as the Lord commanded him.

It’s easy to do some of what God tells us. It’s easy to do everything God tells us, but in a slightly different way. (For example he could have made a slightly bigger boat etc). But the challenge is to do everything, just as commanded.

Noah mixes the revelation of the coming flood with the faithful obedience of a righteous man. It’s easy to keep these things separate: what God tells us and what we think is true and important.

The men and women of scripture challenge us to mix faithful obedience with the revelation of Gods will/word.

When God says go, do we go? When God says speak, do we speak? When God says turn the other cheek, love your enemies, bless those who insult you – do we?

Obedience isn’t easy, especially when we disagree. This is why faith is required into the mixture.

Today, may we be like Noah who did everything, just as the Lord commanded Him.

Peter: “But because You say so, I will” Luke 5:5

“Whatever God wants, whenever He wants it, whatever the cost”

Mary: “do whatever He tells you” John 2:5

Relinquishing Omniscience

Warning – this is an uncomfortable post.

I have journaled very consistently for the last 8 years. I have two journals on the go at any one point. One to record my prayers and the other to record all my notes (from books, talks or 1-on-1s with people, even my sets and reps from weightlifting). The black books pictured above are the latter.

For some time now I have wanted to digitalise these notebooks and categorise the years and years worth of notes into a digital resource. It’s an ambitious task. I want everything I have ever studied to be easily accessible.

Why? Well firstly, I’ve argued that it was part of being a good steward. Secondly, it will make for helpful teaching of others. Thirdly, I feel very good about my walk with God when I consider all the things God has taught me, and looking on a photo like this. I see 8 years of walking with God all documented, tangible and real. Didn’t the Israelites set up stones to remind themselves of God’s goodness?

However there is a fourth reason, and one more deadly than the third. A desire for omniscience, a desire to know all, and in so doing a subtle desire to be like God. Because my human brain is fragile, I forget things and can’t always remember. So I wanted to protect against that by outsourcing my memory to a computer. I want to have a digital database at hand by which I could answer any question thrown at me.

And so, I read books, I study the Bible, I listen to sermons and all the while I take notes. And over the years, over the months, I build an altar to knowledge, an altar to experience and memory…and then God speaks.

You see, God isn’t happy when anything comes between Him and me. He doesn’t appreciate when I start making an idol out of something else, even something good. Even if I’m only heading in that direction, God wants to address it.

When God asked me, how I felt about throwing those journals away. My response was, “yeah right!”. My journals, my notebooks, my ambition to ‘remember’ everything I had ever learnt was placed above my obedience to God.

Red flag.

Long story short, I’ve been praying and realising that God is way more important than books and journals, and vast databases of knowledge. (Obvious I know, but difficult to come to terms with when you are asked to throw it away.) I’ve been realising that everything else is rubbish compared to knowing Christ and obeying Him!

1) ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people’. Jeremiah 31:33

2) ‘Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth of wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict of resist’ Luke 21:14

3) Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ’ Phil 3:8

And so I am offering these books back to God, by “burning” them (putting them in the kitchen bin)…Because they are garbage, compared to knowing Christ and I should not forget that.

Be aware, of setting idols in your heart. Be aware, of clinging to anything in this world rather than Christ. His Spirit is a sharp sword, His Word is a sharp sword, He will reveal the hidden treasures of your heart. And ask you to surrender them.

Be like the good kings of old, who tore down the high places, who broke the altars to false gods. Whether it be your tv addiction, your physic accomplishments, medals, and trophies, certificates or awards. Your blog following. Your job. Your reputation, ego or pride. Put it to death. Gain Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

Yellow-Brick Road Christianity

The Bible says that the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27)

I once read a book about this: thinking, loving, doing. A call to holistic Christianity. A challenge to be thinkers, engaged and serious about knowing God. And to be feelers, pulsing with passion for Jesus and His gospel. And to be doers, endeavouring great acts of love for others!

And I agree, it is no good just loving God with our heart, or just our mind, or just our strength – we need all three. I know this and I agree. In fact, growing up I once heard a talk that compared the types of Christians who love God with only some of these ingredients as the people Dorothy encounters on the yellow brick road towards the Wizard of Oz.

The straw man who doesn’t have a brain, the tin man without a heart and the lion without courage. The various pitfalls for Christians loving God like this are obvious!

However, the part that I need to focus on now is not using all three – but using ALL of all three!

You see, as important it as it is that we love God with our heart, mind, strength and soul. As important as all these three components are. It is just as important that we are wholeheartedly loving God.

There isn’t room for lukewarm discipleship, halfhearted obedience or ‘one hand to the plough, one eye back’.

In studying Genesis 3, I came across this quote from one of the commentators:

“The serpent touches us at the one thing in our lives where we would rather God did not trouble us. We will give Him everything else, but we will hold this one part of life to ourselves”.

This may be our ambition, our refusal to forgive, our determination to exercise, eat whatever we want, watch whatever we want. An area of sin we refuse to confess. A possession we refuse to give away. Be aware, this is where satan will aim his temptation.

What do we withhold from God?

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=holding+nothing+back+tim+hughes

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 4 An Ongoing Call to Worship

Truly, the Bible is the gift that keeps on giving. I’ve done about 8-9 passes on these few verses and I keep getting to hear God’s voice! It’s just as well I’m not a time limit to finish this. I have a feeling a study like this is going to take a while.

It’s probably worth noting that I think going through the Bible at a fast pace is still important. Not only does it make it easier to appreciate each story in context, it also enables to see the Big Picture of God’s plan. That is why I’m still continuing my Bible Read Through approach with a friend. Saying all that, I can’t tell you how good it feels to soak this much in Scripture. It feels like a bath.

In this post I want to explore the Ongoing Call to Worship found in Genesis chapter 1-2:3. Because I’m a sermon writer, I can’t help myself, and have divided the post into three…

1) Creation still hums and buzzes with God’s word all these years later. It is amazing enough that when God spoke things happened, He said “let there be light” and there was! Boom! Cause for worship. But did you know that creation is still obeying His voice today – I know it’s obvious. But look at all the calls to reproduction we see in this passage. The plants are commanded to bring forth seed, fruit and more plants. The animals, fish and birds also. Whenever we see creatures, moving, living, growing, we have an opportunity to see the reverberation of God’s voice still at work today!

This means that when we go outside, listen to the birds singing, see the plants in all their vibrant beauty, right there, we can see God’s voice still working. Boom! Let us worship a God who’s voice echos these thousands, if not millions, of years later.

2) Every day the sun rises, every night the moon shines, we are given a rhythm to worship. Not only is the call to worship present in the ongoing obedience of creation to God’s ordinances. But we as human beings are given daily and weekly rhythms by which to worship. Every day the sun governs the light, every night the moon and stars rule the darkness, we can respond and worship in sync with that which is obediently, steadfastly proclaiming God’s power. Yes, His mercies are new every morning, praise Him, yes the sun rises every day, praise Him. Praise Him in the morning, and the evening.

3) We have been invited to enjoy His creation, especially on the Sabbath! The fact that God finishes what He starts, and rests, and enjoys His creation. Is a model for us, that we should do the same. May it be part of our weekly schedule, routine and rhythm, to pause on the Sabbath and appreciate all the work that God has done.

Creation calls us to worship it’s Creator. Look and see, hear and listen. It echos God’s power!

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 3 The Divine Image

Another thing that I wanted to share from my study of this chapter, is the emphasis on the creation of mankind. It says God created man(kind) in His image and in the image and likeness of God He created them. I think overall the passage mentions that we were made in God’s image three times! As Mike Pilavachi would say, if God says something three times, it’s generally “good-theology” to pay attention.

So it is not surprise then that the commentators did pay a lot of attention to this. I wanted to include a list of thoughts towards what it means to be made in the ‘Divine Image’ here:

1. Humans are given Various (God-like) Capacities. Wayne Grudem, I understand, calls these “communicable attributes of God” – the attributes of God that we share/shadow in. For example we can reason, we can create, we can talk and listen. Obviously not to the infinite extent God-can, but like Him nonetheless. There are “incommunicable attributes” as well such as omnipotence, omnipresence etc. But clearly part of what it means to be made in God’s image is that we can function a little like God. See my previous post on Genesis to see how God has provided mankind with authority.

2. Humans are made Relational beings. Just like the Trinitarian God, who has been subtlety introduced throughout this passage (His Spirit over the water, “let us make mankind” and that He made us in His image: male and female), human beings are made relational. In fact we will later notice that the one thing “not good” in all of creation is that it was not good for man to be alone.

The commentators highlighted that we are not just relational in terms of our capacity to relate to each other, but also in our capacity to relate to God.

3. Human beings are made Human Becomings. Since humans are relational, and relationships happen over time part of what it means to be a human is to be someone who is moving into closer relationship with God. To be someone who is growing into their identity. That’s why Ephesians 4:13 hints at when it says: “until we all reach unity…and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

It was picked up by the commentators in the next chapter: man is offered two paths to knowledge. 1) Experientially, through obedience to God and participation with His plan. 2) Sinfully, through detachment and “enlightenment” via the “tree of knowledge of good and evil”. The commentator emphasises that true knowledge is always found via knowing and obeying God. This is how we become more human. I am fascinated with this concept!

4. Human beings are made to Represent God to creation. Just as an ancient king might set up statues in distant lands to represent himself to the population, so too our God sets us up to represent Him to creation. However because of sin we are limited and marred in all our attempts to do this. However, Jesus who never sinned, is called the ultimate image of God, in fact His exact representation! (Col 1:15)

Finally, let us not forget Colossians 1:15: “THE SON IS THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD THE FIRSTBORN OVER ALL CREATION.’’ Where Adam and Eve failed to live up to the opportunity God gave them, Christ succeeds. May we seek to look upon Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12), may we contemplate His glory and in so doing be transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3). For we know that it when He appears, when we see Him, that we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).

Oh, may our gaze ever be towards Christ, the true divine image of God!

There was a quote which I really liked. To be made in the Divine image is both “a task and a gift, it is a history and a status”. Yes it is inherent in our nature to be made in God’s image, but it is also a responsibility, an invitation and something which we can grow into. May we seek to obey God, steward His gifts, represent Him, carry out our God-like capacities, and in so doing come to know Him more through experiential obedience!

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.