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I’ve served as an usher at my church for two years ever since the previous ministry I was in merged with the usher team. So now on ever third Sunday, I get to welcome and greet people at the door and show them to their seats. When you are an usher, you really meet all sorts of people. Most are nice, polite and warm but there are some really difficult ones. It wakes me up to the sobering truth that the church is really for imperfect and broken people like you and I.
I’ve also greeted and welcomed many LGBTs into my church and I always marvel at their courage to step into a place where most people think would be hostile towards them. To me it simply shows that they love God more than the pain or fear of being rejected. And I thought their just being there is already a testimony. When many would walk past me without even a glance of acknowledgement to my greeting, they are the ones who made eye contact and returned my smile.
So when I read this from Seth’s blog this morning, I just have to share it.
To all my LGBT friends and family, I am sorry we did not love you more.
I miss worship songs. Have not been listening to them for a while, except in church on Sundays. I grew up with Hillsongs as a young Christian. After a while I found some of their praise songs too noisy and loud for me. However, I love their worship songs, which are beautifully written and never fail to usher us into God’s presence. Worship songs are especially mesmerizing when sang together in a congregation. I have this vision that one day I will sing together with multitudes from all over the world, every tongue and tribe. What a marvelous time that would be. What we have now is but a glimpse of the future. Already it is enough to burst our hearts open. Imagine what it would be like when the fullness of the time comes.
Hillsong United, the youth music ministry of Hillsong Church in Australia will be here this Saturday at The Zone Youth Conference @ Max Pavilion.
This is one of their newer worship song. I love the drum beats in the background (not very audible in the video) and the violins and cello. It’s hauntingly beautiful.
Check out also this praise song called Desert Song. But just before that, a word from the lead singers. May we find strength and hope in the desert times of our life.
Greetings to all my beloved fans! (i like to think that I have fans)
I am sorry I have not written for a while. Not that I have not been thinking about anything but just that I didn’t feel the flow to write, if you know what I mean. I have this bag of thoughts about various issues but they were very scattered and I didn’t feel up to task stringing them all together so that they make sense. I have been slacking a great deal lately, I know. And it doesn’t help that a friend recently introduced Korean drama to me. I tell you…in the past I would never be caught dead watching Korean drama, yet here I am – guilty as charged! But then again, I was a fan of Sylvester Sim before, so expect the unexpected! “Ahhh….how could you be a fan of Sly?? It’s so unlike you!” Hehe…I know I know, don’t have to remind me. So I have been watching Boys Over Flowers and I think I am in love all over again. Ji Hoo!!!….ahhh…you’re sO cUtE!! <in typical teenager’s shriek> For some reason, I have a soft spot for guys who are musicians and has a melancholic air. Hee.. Okay I better stop before I get dizzy and bore you to death.
Now back to the reason for this post. Just like many in Singapore who were caught up with the AWARE incident last month, I have much to say. Recently someone from a blog I have been following wrote about the subject and I found that it reflected very much my own views about the issue. So I am going to cut corners (no doubt disappointing some of you who wanted to hear my own voice about this) and direct you to that blog. I assure you, it is pretty close in terms of views, as it is to mine. She said it so much more eloquently, so why not? I am good at making excuses for my laziness. It is important to remember here that we and our views about issues change as we grow in understanding and grace.
In the beginning I had refrain from commenting about the issue because I had not been following its development consistently. I didn’t feel qualified to say anything about something I did not have a complete picture on. My lack of response disappointed my lesbian friend. I realized it gave her the impression that I was indifferent to an issue very close to her heart and that was as good as saying “I don’t really care about you”. That was certainly not the message I wanted to send, especially so when the offending party in this saga are Christians. The reason why I decided I should spend some time finding out more about the story and give an informed response was first and foremost to let my friend know that if something is that important to her, then it is important to me as well. That is of more importance to me than trying to salvage the image of Christianity from a group of loud and aggressive Christian conservatives. Christianity suffers from an image problem due to the foolishness of some of it’s adherants but the true message of Jesus Christ will survive all that. I made peace with my friend but there was so much more left to be said and I would like to share it here (through the voice of another).
The writer is someone I respect very much for her fair and balanced take on many issues that are of particular interest to Christians. I found her blog by chance more than a year ago. I do not know her personally but I found out later that she attends the same church as mine, although it is not her own home church. Another person I would like to recommend is Korean-born, American pastor, Eugene Cho (err…he was before my infatuation with Korean drama). I am sure you all know him by now as I quote him regularly on my blog. He always leaves you something to chew on.
So here they are.
Seth Barnes just wrote a piece on A Christian Perspective on the 2009 Recession. Seth is trained in economics and business but a minister by vocation, so you can expect an honest and inteligent take on the situation yet at the same time it doesn’t rob you of hope. This especially resonates with me,
A second observation is that the pain we’re going through creates an opportunity to offer to others the thing we Christians have in abundance – our hope. Not hope for a better salary or even a job necessarily, but hope that there is a God in heaven who created you and me and made us for more than a slog through a life of nihilism. Hope in a God who is in the business of redeeming adverse circumstances, a God who delights in showing himself personal and involved.
As a minister who is heavily involved with missions, his voice is distinctively different from many affluent preachers we hear today. Having worked with those who are really in need, he knows first hand the reality of suffering and poverty. He applauds those who are good at making money and using it to build the kingdom of God. At the same time, to those anxious to be delivered from this crisis, he made no promises of a quick fix but only a call to remember what out true hope is in Christ. In his own words, “We have a master who has given generations the serenity to face death itself with a smile.”
Click here to read the rest of the post.
2008 was a significant year for many. We lived through the continuing threat of terrorism, major natural disasters, soaring oil prices, inflation, global financial meltdown, tainted food and deepening political unrest. Many nations elected their new government in 08 too. And of course, who can forget the event that lifted China up on the world map. No, this one is good news – the 2008 summer Olympics.
What was it like for me?
Let me start by saying that 2008 was not a smooth sailing one for me by a long shot. I started the year with a general sense of impending doom in my marriage and finances. These alone were enough to keep me on the edge the entire year. You can imagine what it was like for me to hear pastor proclaimed to us at the start of the New Year that it will be a year of manifested blessings for many. It could feel like a slap to my face. I used the word could because although I had no inkling how this will work out for me, I said amen to it anyway. I know my God. Apart from loosing faith in Him, nothing that could happen can truly be called tragic. Now, please don’t think, “Wow…I wish I had her kind of faith.” The honest truth is that I am only able to say this in retrospect. At every point of crisis, I had my doubts and anxieties, coupled with helpless attempts to cling on to God. Sometimes I look shipwrecked….but always on the shore of His grace.
I discovered during my time in AQ (adversity quotient) training that the way I view my misfortune is more important than the misfortune itself. There is a saying that tragedies are only tragedies if we allow them to be. (Mine could hardly be called a tragedy) I know it is so cliché but there is a ring of truth in it. It is difficult to see things in God’s perspective when our faith is hijacked by the reality staring at us. I remember pastor once taught that truth is not reality. Reality is subject to change just like all things earthly are but truth is eternal and unchanging. The challenge for us today is to have a firm grasp of the truth so that it can begin to change our reality. As believers, we do not deny reality but we bring God into it so that His truth changes it.
So I was broke, my husband was selfish and irresponsible, our home was at stake. These were the realities. Some still are. Yet here I am. Have those realities changed? I know I have changed. I am more prudent now in my financial stewardship, I have a better understanding of money matters, my priorities are more aligned with what they ought to be, I am better able to pray for my husband regardless of how I feel about him and I have a lighter grip on the material. God changes reality through us. I think if He were to do it the other way round, we may not be ready to live up to the changes He wants to make. “It is one thing for us to set up a ministry and ask someone to lead it but quite another when God raises a leader and get him to start that ministry,” pastor said. Which do you think will be more successful? Inner transformation is an agonizingly slow process and its fruit may not be immediately visible. Meanwhile, God’s reputation hangs on the precipice of our human frailty. Yet this is the way He chooses. I discovered an important lesson here. Those who are secure and confident in who they are do not clamor after men’s recognition. God is not afraid to put his reputation on the line because He is sure of Himself and what He is doing. If I were to be given a Bruce Almighty moment, I will zap everyone into obedience and go about setting things straight whether my human subjects like it or not. No one can accuse me of not living up to expectations.
Yet the question remains, have those circumstances changed? People of the 21st century are very realistic people. We don’t need feel good stories and have little patience for philosophy, much less, theology. Yes, they are nice and inspiring but….show me the money! I want to know that my debts are cleared, that the tumor is gone, that my home has doubled in value, that I have a new husband! We want results and want them fast. Otherwise, we move on to the next thing that promises a quick fix. It is a short-sighted view of life. We make judgments base on the material. If only we realize who we are directly affects how we experienc life, regardless of the conditions, we will be more willing to wait. I recently read the testimony of Jacelyn Tay, a Mediacorp artiste. She said that she no longer sees her misfortune as something necessarily bad. To put it another way, all of life’s experiences can have a redeeming value. She brought God into the situation and rose above them.
But to answer the pragmatic question – I moved from zero savings to having an emergency fund. It is still small but growing steadily. The wonderful thing is that I did not have to sacrifice my tithes for it. I will write a little more about this experience another time. My mother-in-law stepped in to help save the home. It is safe for now at least. These came about in the most natural way. Money did not appear from nowhere. I did not suddenly win the state lottery. Instead God brought certain people and resources to me. They helped put me back on my feet. My husband is still pretty much the same but he did get his job back before the year is over. In the past I had struggled to pray for his blessing because I felt he deserved what was due him. Now I am learning to look pass his failures and pray for him anyway even though I don’t feel like it. Along the way, I also witnessed relationships of people around me rose and fell and was surprised to find myself interpreting them with new eyes; less judgmental, more honest and certainly more objective. Things may not have change much in the materialistic sense but I feel I have grown much more this year compared to the last couple of years put together. When I look back, I discovered I am a different person now then I was years before. Yet it didn’t all happen in one episode. It is an on-going process. Years of being washed in God’s word while in the training field of life’s arbitrariness has shaped the way I responded to life. Together, they made me who I am today. Looking back, I could see why all the shaking was necessary. May we all grow from strength to strength. Remember, we can also slip backwards. The determining factor is the condition of our inner man.
I say all these to say that the power to make a difference lies within and nothing changes the inner man the way God does. Circumstances can either make or break us but with God, the latter is less likely because in Him we find an anchor. Without an anchor, we are easily tossed about by the waves of life’s uncertainties. So it follows that real and lasting change (for the better) begins with God at the center. The horizon is still a long way off. Never think that we have arrived. Instead, let us look for redemptive value in every set back.
I have rambled for too long and should proceed with my list. It has become a tradition for me at the end of every year to present a list of favorites in various categories. I have taken out Lesson of the Year because I have just written 1000 words on it.
Film of the Year
Last King of Scotland / Blood Diamond / Children of Men / Waitress / In The Valley of Elah / Batman: The Dark Night / Freedom Writers / Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian / Good Will Hunting / Schlindler’s List / Gandhi / Apollo 13 / United 93 / Hitler: The Rise of Evil / The Good Shepherd
Book of the Year
The Laws of Money, The Lessons of Life – Suze Orman
Nothing short of life-changing for me. She gives sound financial advice that does not just address the surface of a problem but digs deep to reveal an underlying spiritual condition. Money is more spiritual than we think. Read Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s work in Thou Shall Prosper and you will know what I mean. The 5 Laws of Money just makes it easier for everyday people like us to understand it. Lapin’s work might be a little heavy for some of us. Neither of them are Christians but their views of money will lead us to honor God with our money and change our life for the better.
Waiter Rant – Steve Dublanica
It was finally revealed that Steve Dublanica is the author behind the hugely popular blog, Waiter Rant. I have followed his blog for years and am so proud and delighted to know that his first book by the same name is so well received. I feel a certain connection with the book. It’s like seeing one of your own finally making it big.
People of the Year
I don’t care if she is lesbian. She is one of the most influential people God brought to my life this year. She is charismatic, sharp, witting and funny. It is evident in all the advice she gives, that she always lives by her values – people first, then money, then things.
Whenever I read about all the criticisms out there about Christians and our failures, I look at Seth Barnes and the work that he does and I don’t feel so depressed. Recently an atheist group in London launched a massive ad campaign in the city’s subway stations and double-decker busses. The ad carries the slogan, “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life” Funny, ever since God came into my life only the opposite is true. When you read about Seth’s life, his thoughts and the work that he and his team is doing, you will see why that is so.
Sermon of the Year
There were just too many to list. The bulk of it came from my very own pastor, Ps Joseph Prince. There is hardly a sermon by Pastor Prince where God did not speak to me. There were many excellent sermons this year but one that particularly stood out was, God’s Protection Plan Against The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse.
Another notable teacher I read and heard this year was Joe Stowel of RBC ministries. He taught on the transforming power of Christ from the book Philippians, His book Radical Reliance: Living 24/7 with god at the center and his sermon albums, Ruth: Love Unshaken, Firm Foundation: Faith and Truth in an Age of Uncertainty and Shattered: Making Sense of the Brokenness of Life were all excellent materials.
Blog of the Year
Radical Living in a Comfortable World by Seth Barnes
Beauty & Depravity by Eugene Cho
To read past year’s In Focus, please refer to the Site Index under the category: In Focus.
We sang this song in church last Sunday. It’s a new version (a better one in my opinion) of a very old hymn. The original song had captured my heart ever since I was a child, though I did not grasp the meaning then. How different it is now when I sing it with understanding and conviction. Every word carries with it such deep meaning and significance.
Originally written by John Newton between 1760-1770, rearranged and performed by Chris Tomlin for the motion picture, Amazing Grace (2006), a powerful flim based on the life story of antislavery pioneer, William Wilberforce.
I am sorry to disappoint some of you with a password protected post in my last entry. If you’ve read the about segment at the top of this blog, you would already know that these are posts that contain too many intimate and private details. Either that, or I need to protect certain parties involved in the story. I know some of you are waiting to know what my decision is.
That post was a word-for-word email I sent to my in-laws a couple of weeks ago. It was the first time I made my thoughts and feelings known to them in a clear and honest manner about the situation at home. My in-laws have been very nice and supportive all these years, whatever little they know of our situation. My mother in-law had invested so much to help her son over the years. It will not be right for me to withhold my intentions from their knowledge after all their sacrifices.
I have decided to start working towards leaving an emotionally oppressive environment and a person who clearly has not grown up after all these years and who continually puts his family in grave financial risk. I have known for a long time this was what I wanted but never really had the resolve to act on it in a consistent manner. I want to do better this time. Here are a few things I want to accomplish by end of this year.
- learn about personal finance and investments
- engage an independent financial advisor and start planning for a future as a single parent
- see a counselor
- get in touch with an attorney familiar with divorce and family law
- start working with my husband towards an amicable solution with regards to custody and
splitting of assets etc. in case of separation or divorce (this will be the toughest challenge as he still doesn’t think I will go through with it)
Recently I discovered that being a permanent resident here has it’s disadvantages when it comes to housing, which is a big consideration for me. There are a lot of other practical issues I am still trying to sort out. I read somewhere the other day that many couples choose to remain in their current position for practical reasons. Now I can understand why. Then there is the emotional side of things, not so much my own feelings (we have been living separate lives for as long as I can remember) but those of my children. Surprisingly, I feel a tinge of sadness for my husband as well because I know we are everything he has. To deprive him of that feels somewhat cruel and heartless. He had his chances and blew them, what can I say? I cannot continue to allow him to be irresponsible without consequence. It is not fair to me and the kids. We deserve a stable environment.
I have something to share which I have not shared with anyone before. A few years ago, my spiritual strength was at an all time high. It was a time when my faith and passion for God overshadowed every problem and every challenge and I had felt that I was ready to deal with more. So one morning, with legs crossed and hands opened in worship, I told God how much I appreciated Him and then with quiet confidence I declared (to Him) that I am ready for whatever challenges He may have for me ……. as long as He walks with me. It was as good as saying, “Lord, I am ready for more shaking. Come and test me out.” I can’t decide if I was being naive or arrogant, probably both! And come they did. Sometimes in a trickle, sometimes in torrential thunderstorms that shook me out of every false impression I had of God, of myself, of my circumstances and my faith. Now many showers and thunderstorms later, I discovered that He is still walking with me and I learn to trust and appreciate much more His loving provision and gentle guidance. Over the weekend I watched Schindler’s List for the second time and asked myself’ “What could possibility be worse than that?” and I realized I am blessed and protected beyond measure. I can’t help but notice the ending comment that Oskar Schindler, for all the good he did, wasn’t protected from failure in his marriage and subsequent business ventures after the holocaust. It can be an unsettling thing to see that the reward of our faithfulness might not come this lifetime but thanks be to God it does not depend on our goodness but on the unsearchable richness of God’s grace.
This will be my last post about this gloomy topic, at least for now. My life is more than my marriage. It is more than my children, more than my problems and certainly more than my husband. I will be busy living it and live it well I will, for the glory of God. I invite you to do the same.
Here is a song to encourage all those who are walking through the valley of the shadows. Footprints in the Sand by Leona Lewis
Here is a post I wrote on footprints back in 2004.
Of Footprints and Failures
If you have not read Part 1, please read that first before you continue.
Now that we have a better idea of what free will is and if it contradicts God’s omniscience, we are ready to look at the other issues. With that in mind, let us continue.
Why doesn’t God intervene?
Why should anything happen at all which is not in accordance with God’s intent? If God is sovereign can’t he intervene so that they don’t happen? The reply differ according to the nature of the event – what causes it? If it’s a result of man’s moral choice, then the straightforward answer would be – because God doesn’t temper with man’s free will at whim. A child is sexually abused. A loving God would certainly find it abhorrent, let alone desire it. It happened because another person freely chose to commit a moral evil. Remember what we learn about free will earlier – it is the ability to make willing choices that has real consequences. Unfortunately in this scenario, the child also experiences the consequence of that choice even though he/she did not choose to be a victim! And realize too that the child’s free will is violated by the abuser! Glenn Miller of the Christian Tank thinks that sometimes God does intervene in cases like this, where a person’s free will is violated by another (see “suggested reading” below). This illustration also shows that sometimes we suffer because of another’s wrong doing. It demonstrates that our choices have more far-reaching consequences than might be immediately apparent. Our choices and actions don’t affect us alone but the people around us as well. This ought to motivate us to make responsible choices.
But back to the main issue, why doesn’t God intervene and stop the abuse? (God being impotent is not one of them!) There certainly will be reasons we will never understand this side of heaven but there are a few possibilities we can explore. Firstly, God, due to his foreknowledge might have known that He can redeem the situation to bring about a greater good for the child and for the people whom the child will cross path with in the future and even for the abuser himself. It is precisely because God sees the future that he is able to withhold his judgment (allowing an event to take place). Case in point, God did not intervene when Saul went about persecuting the early Christians. It’s not difficult to guess that He knew Saul will become one of the greatest apostles (Paul) someday! An even better example would be the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. God did not dispatch his legions of angels to stop the crucifixion because He saw all of us (the redeemed ones) in the future and count it worthwhile that His Son should go to the cross. God knows enough about our free choices to work out a plan that will encompass all our free choices and still accomplish His purpose. He is able to incorporate them into His grand plan because of what He knows. Rev Joe stowell puts it this way, “God moves the chess pieces of our life to prepare us for a checkmate!”.
But what about “bad” events which are not due to man’s moral choice, like natural disasters? The Bible says that God gave Adam dominion over the world (Gen. 1:28). When he rebelled against God, he set in motion an entire series of events and changed the very nature of man and creation. Both were affected by sin. Creation was no longer a paradise, but bore thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:17-18; Rom. 8:22). People became sinful (Rom. 5:12; Eph. 2:3), who were haters of God (Rom. 3:19-12), etc. The only conclusion to such a situation is death. But even then, we don’t despair because God has already visited the future and He tells us there will be a new earth where there will be no more tears and suffering. This is one future event that falls within the category of God’s sovereign will (explained in further detail below) which cannot be violated.
Understanding God’s will
Another question that comes up about things that happen against God’s intent is due to statements like Jesus’ in Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.” Peter also writes that, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
The problem is that the Bible seems to indicate in these verses that God has a will for something which doesn’t get done. Israel didn’t come to Jesus, though He willed it. Not everyone is saved, though God wills it. Yet at the same time, the Bible says that nothing can thwart God’s will. Check out Dan. 4:35: “And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What hast Thou done?’”
We’ve got an honest to goodness, bona fide contradiction right there! But there is a way out according to Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason.
The law of non-contradiction states that “A cannot be non-A at the same time and in the same way.” The only way these teachings are not contradictory is if God’s “will” in one case does not mean the same thing as God’s “will” in the other case. This is the only way out.
The words “God’s will” can mean two different things. Or, to put it another way, you can have different “wills” of God, or two aspects of the will of God. The simplest way to describe them is God’s moral will—what He morally desires, but doesn’t always take place (like salvation for everyone)–and God’s sovereign will—described in Daniel 4 and other places—that which He purposes to take place and which always happens.
Two wills of God. Moral will and sovereign will. Moral will entails all those things God wants us to do, yet we may disobey. God wants us to be saved, yet many are not. God wanted Israel to turn to Jesus, yet most did not. God wants all kinds of things of His people—He wills those things—but they don’t come to pass. There’s a sense of God’s will that can be violated.
Yet, at the same time, there are other things which are clearly stated about God’s will that He intends actually come to pass. We see some of those details in the book of Daniel, and this is why Daniel makes the statement that God’s will, in this sense, cannot be violated.
What determines the future?
In closing I would like to bring up another point of consideration as I feel it’s important to our discussion. What determines the future? Again, Greg explains that the common assumption is that since God knows every act in the future and everything about the future, then the future must be set in concrete, making the future determined. If the future is fixed, how can our actions have meaning since it can’t change anything? Greg offers this solution, the best way to state or define the nature of God’s omniscience is that God knows and believes every true proposition. In other words, God already knows all true propositions about the future. There is a difference between God knowing the future and God decreeing every future event by fiat such that it will then take place. I will clarify that distinction in just a moment. Let me say this: I believe that the future is set. I believe there will be a particular future. Particular things are going to happen, and I will give you an illustration on how I know that to be the case. But I don’t think that has anything whatsoever to do with free will. Or a better way of saying it, I don’t think that obviates free will. It doesn’t remove the necessity of free will. It is precisely because of human free will that the future is set the way it is. The real question isn’t whether the future is set or not, but what it is that sets the events of the future.
My argument is this: The future is set. It is going to be something in particular. How do I know that? Because God, being omniscient, knows and believes all true propositions. Some of those propositions are tensed. In other words, God knows not only the present facts, but the future facts as well. If God knows future facts, then that means the future facts are particular things. They aren’t things in flux. He knows what the future will be. So, one could say the future is fixed, then conclude from that fact that the future is determined and there is no free will. The second does not follow from the first. Or I should say, to be more accurate, the third doesn’t follow from the second. The first being the future is fixed, the second that it is determined, and the third that free will choices makes no difference.
The fact that the future is determined does not remove the significance of free will choices. I can prove it to you by simply asking you to reflect on the past. The past is a particular thing. There are not all kinds of pasts that are possible. The past is a past fact. However, the past facts have been established by free choices. Even though the details of the past are fixed without any possibility of them being moved, they are fixed because people chose particular things and those particular things expressed themselves in time and are now past history.
You see, the critical question about determinism with regards to free will is not whether the future is set, but what sets the future. If the future is set by God’s fiat sovereign decree—and when I say the future I am talking about every single detail of the future—then I think it is true that there is no genuine free will. If that is the case, it seems to me that you can’t avoid the charge that God is now responsible for evil.
But I don’t think that is what sets the future entirely. I think there are things that are certain in the future and we know those things are certain because God told us about them. We know the ultimate fate of the wicked. We know the ultimate fate of the righteous. We know particular details, at least some broad outlines, about the second coming of Christ. God will accomplish those things because He decides to do it. Therefore, some facts of the future are going to occur in time simply because God has decided it to be so.
However, I don’t think most of the facts about the future are going to be set in that way. I think most of the facts of the future are set, not because God decides, but because you and I decide sometime in the future that certain things will be such. If you and I are making decisions that set the future into a particular mold, then we have free will, don’t we? One could ask, “Well, could I change the future?” All it takes to change the future is for you to make different decisions in the future. Those different decisions are the decisions that set the future as it will be.
In other words, “Yeah, the future is set, but what sets it?” You set it. Your decisions determine what the future will be to a great degree. What that means is that your individual choices, by and large, make the difference in the future. I am speaking in general terms here about God’s knowing the future as a function of His omniscience. However, knowing the future does not remove the possibility of your freedom in some measure in the future, because what He knows in the future are your free choices. This is a very important point.
I hope you have found this short study helpful to your understanding of the issue. It was certainly a worthwhile learning experience for me. I have to thank hk for initiating the discussion. I have quoted from several sources and have listed all of them below. Now I can finally take my break (hk, please don’t draw me into another discussion so soon, I’ll die!) and if I feel like it, maybe we will explore other philosophical and theological questions again in the future. 😉
CARM (Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry)
If God knows our free will choices, do we still have free will?
Which is it? Mens’s free will or God’s omniscience.
Stand To Reason
What determins the future?
Bad arguments against Calvinism.
Bible Doctrine by Wayne Grudem
Does God’s judgment violate the free choice of his creatures? (Glenn Miller, The Christian Thinktank)
If God is all powerful and loving, why is there suffering in the world? (CARM)
God and the future: Examining the open view of God (Rick Wade, Probe Ministries)
Since this is going to be a lengthy post, I will break it up into two parts, just so I won’t loose you halfway through. 😉
I didn’t expect to be drawn into a discussion on God’s omniscience and human free will but in the spirit of learning and because hk’s honest and open dialogue (see my post on Self-Refuting Statements) deserves a more through response, I will oblige. I humbly concede that I have not realized the difficulty of such an undertaking until I am doing my own homework. I have underestimated the complexity of the subject. Although this is not something I have not explored before in the past, I have certainly forgotten that there weren’t any air-tight answers to the debate then. Even today, Christian thinkers are still debating the subject! There are however some explanations I find reasonable enough for me to accept while leaving space for further debate and even for a bit of mystery. As a writer-researcher in CARM notes,
this idea of God’s knowledge and peoples’ freedom is ultimately an unanswerable issue since it involves us working in time and God is outside of time. Our question deals with a situation from a perspective inside of time where God is outside of time. By default, our questions and answers concerning this issue cannot be complete. Past, present, and future are concepts and realities created for us, not God.
So do keep that in mind as you try to process the rest of this post.
With that, let’s jump right into the subject. The issue at hand is how do we reconcile God’s omniscience, specifically his foreknowledge, with human free will? To provide you some background on the discussion, I have pasted our brief conversation below.
(In response to my post on Self-Refuting Statements, hk wrote…)
hk : God is omniscient, yet free will exists. Discuss. (he feels that God’s omniscience contradicts our free will and vice versa)
rk: usually people who argue that god’s omniscience and our free will cannot both exists, assumes that if god has knowledge of a matter, then he must have influenced it. this need not be. just because god can foresee what choice i will make does not mean i am not free to choose the alternative. it happens all the time with my kids. if i forget to lock up my son’s PSP before i leave for work, i know it will end up in his hands even though he knows it is not a “PSP day” and he should be working on his school project instead. now, i did not force him to make that decision. neither do i have to be at home to know what my son would choose because i know my son well enough….that he can’t resist such a temptation. so perhaps we can say that god knows us well enough to know what we would choose? (this should settle the issue of contradiction – that there is no contradiction – but creates other problems….as you will soon find out)
hk: The concern I have with your justification is that, pursuant to the Christian world view, God, all-powerful and all-knowing, influences the world all the time in big and small ways. Natural disasters have been attributed to him, as have things as small as (I kid you not, some woman stood up and spoke this in my church last month) starting someone’s lawn mower.
So to say that (1) God is all powerful and all knowing, and (2) that God not only has the ability to influence the world, but chooses to do so on a regular basis, but then (3) state that anything happens in the world that is not explicitly his intent; that chain of logic just doesn’t seem to follow to me.
Under that framework, one almost has to assume that anything that God allows to transpire has done so with his explicit authorization. <shrug> Maybe I’m the slow one, because I’ve never been able to think out of or think through those boxes in a way that makes sense.
There are a few issues to work out here. It is no longer just a question of whether free will can coexists with divine omniscience. In effect, hk’s charge is that, if God is sovereign (because God knows all things and is all-powerful) as Christians claim him to be, then it doesn’t follow that some events are not His intent since everything happens with his permission. Furthermore, God as we see in the Old Testament is a God who was closely involved with His people, who was genuinely responsive to the circumstances of their lives, not an impersonal force.
Are we free?
Firstly, we need to establish that free will does not stop becoming free just because God knows what will happen. The analogy above of my son and his PSP should suffice to illustrate the point. Logically, God knowing what we are going to do does not mean that we can’t do something else. It means that God simply knows what we have chosen to do ahead of time. Our freedom is not restricted by God’s foreknowledge; our freedom is simply realized ahead of time by God. In this, our natural ability to make another choice has not been removed. No matter what choice we freely make, it can be known by God and His knowing it doesn’t mean we aren’t making a free choice. People who argue against this will have to illustrate how our ability to choose is somehow altered or restricted by God’s foreknowledge.
What free will means.
Next, we need to look at the concept of free will. I realize there are different interpretations as to what free will is and the bulk of the problem is due to a misunderstanding of it. The reality is that while we have the ability to make truly significant choices, we don’t have truly “free” will. You cannot, for example, choose to wake up tomorrow morning in China when you go to bed in Chicago. Or wake up speaking Chinese when all you know is English. You cannot choose to be a different gender than what God made you. But we can make choices that make a difference: for example, in our attitudes, in who we marry and most importantly, which God we serve. We have limited freedom in our choices, and God does not force us to choose things His way; He respects our choices. But we do not have totally free will if free will means we can defy space and time and go against God’s natural law. So free will in this sense simply means the ability to make willing choices that has real consequences in our life. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology puts it this way,
The kind of freedom that is often assumed by those who either deny God’s providential control of all things or our freedom of choice is the freedom to act outside God’s sustaining and controlling activity, a freedom that includes being able to make decisions that are not caused by anything external of ourselves. Scripture nowhere says we are free in those senses. That kind of freedom would be impossible if Jesus Christ is indeed “continually carrying along things by his word of power” (Heb. 1:3, author’s translation). If this is true, to be outside of that providential control would simply be not to exists! An absolute “freedom”, totally free of God’s control, is simply not possible in a world providentially sustained and directed by God himself.
Coming up in Part 2 ….
Why Doesn’t God Intervene?
Understanding God’s Will
What determines the future?
List of sources
I am a subscriber to Christianity Today’s email format of their daily newsletter. They are pretty up-to-date with what’s happening within and around the Christian community in the US and around the world. There are some very good articles on a variety of subjects too. I also rely heavily on their movie reviews to pick out films I want to watch.
I particularly enjoy Philip Yancey’s column. Yancey is one of my favorite Christian authors of all time. He is also a columnist for Christianity Today. An article he wrote yesterday on C.S. Lewis in Christianity Today resonated so well with me. It brought me to an even higher level of appreciation for Lewis – another one of my spiritual mentor. There is a portion in that article that provided a fresh perspective on the Christian argument. I thought that tied in nicely with my last two posts. Since it’s a pretty short article I might as well paste all of it here. I hope it will leave you with an appetite for the “holiday at the sea” instead of settling for “making mud pies in the slum” , as Lewis puts it.
Found in Space
How C. S. Lewis has shaped my faith and writing.
Philip Yancey | posted 7/22/2008 08:41AM/ Christianity Today
I first encountered C. S. Lewis through his space trilogy. Though perhaps not his best work, it had an undermining effect on me. He made the supernatural so believable that I could not help wondering, What if it’s really true? What if there is a God and an afterlife and what if supernatural forces really are operating behind the scenes on this planet and in my life?
I was attending college in the late 1960s, just a few years after Lewis’s death. I ordered more of his books from second-hand bookshops in England because many had not yet made it across the Atlantic. I wrestled with them as with a debate opponent and reluctantly felt myself drawn, as Lewis himself had, kicking and screaming all the way into the kingdom of God. Since then Lewis has been a constant companion, a kind of shadow mentor who sits beside me, urging me to improve my writing style, my thinking, and my vision.
Lewis has taught me a style of approach that I try to follow in my own writings. To quote William James, “… in the metaphysical and religious sphere, articulate reasons are cogent for us only when our inarticulate feelings of reality have already been impressed in favor of the same conclusion.” In other words, we rarely accept a logical argument unless it fits an intuitive sense of reality. ( Somehow, I find this statement so profound. I remember that it was the exact same feeling that led me to place my trust in Christ. And I remember that my Dad shared the same sentiment too when he said that he could not deny any longer what he knew in his heart to be true. Amazing.) The writer’s challenge is to nurture that intuitive sense—as Lewis had done for me with his space trilogy before I encountered his apologetics. Lewis himself converted to Christianity only after sensing that it corresponded to his deepest longings, his Sehnsucht.
Lewis’s background of atheism and doubt gave him a lifelong understanding of and compassion for readers who would not accept his words. He had engaged in a gallant tug of war with God, only to find that the God on the other end of the rope was entirely different from what he had imagined. Likewise, I had to overcome an image of God marred by an angry and legalistic church. I fought hard against a cosmic bully only to discover a God of grace and mercy.
“My idea of God is not a divine idea,” Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed. “It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. … The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.” That book, conceived as his wife lay dying a most cruel death from bone cancer, unsettles some readers. Lewis had dealt with theodicy philosophically in The Problem of Pain, but tidy arguments melted away as he watched the process of bodily devastation in the woman he loved. I believe the two books should be read together, for the combination of ultimate answers and existential agony reflects the biblical pattern. The Cross saved the world, but, oh, at what cost.
Lewis saw the world as a place worth saving. Unlike the monastics of the Middle Ages and the legalists of modern times, he saw no need to withdraw and deny all pleasures. He loved a stiff drink, a puff on the pipe, a gathering of friends, a Wagnerian opera, a hike in the fields of Oxford. The pleasures in life are indeed good, just not good enough; they are “only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
I found in Lewis that rare and precarious balance of embracing the world while not idolizing it. For all its defects, this planet bears marks of the original design, traces of Beauty and Joy that both recall and anticipate the Creator’s intent.
Alone of modern authors, Lewis taught me to anticipate heaven: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”
I doubt Lewis ever anticipated that almost half a century after his death several million people each year would buy one of his dozens of books still in print, and that Disney Studios would release movies based on Narnia with spinoff products available in every shopping mall. If informed of that fact, he would likely have shrunk back in alarm.
We writers are not nouns, he used to say. We are mere adjectives, pointing to the great Noun of truth. Lewis did that, faithfully and masterfully, and because he did so, many thousands have come to know and love that Noun.
Adapted from Mere Christians: Inspirational Stories of Encounters with C. S. Lewis, forthcoming from Baker Publishing.