Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creation and Grace

Have you ever thought about how creation and grace are connected? I mean, other than the fact that once creation was completed, grace was ready (and needed) to take the stage? I hadn't thought about it too much before until recently either.

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I should preface this post with this: I don't have the education or intellectual capacity like legitimate theologians and pastors do, and I'm sure someone else has written on this before me (and most likely done a better job of elaborating on it). But think about this for a moment: if God is timeless and omniscient, then He knew before ever speaking anything into existence that it would suffer from a potentially devastating defect. But the defect wasn't in His creation; it was in how the created ones chose to use and operate that which was created. It would be like the certain drugs or medication that were originally used for good but then were perverted and abused. The product itself carries no negative properties other than abuse potential. God knew this, though, and in His goodness also decided that carrying on with creation was the best possible outcome. How would He account for this flaw then?


Can you imagine the discussion He might have had trying to solve this problem? "What shall we do about this rebelliousness that each person will be prone to? How can we honor the created ones with freedom yet still offer the hope of eternity in Heaven without robbing them of that very freedom? Ahhh, I've got it. How about a cross?"

God, being the very definition of selflessness and love in His nature through creation, was also creating with grace in mind. He knew that we would need a Savior, and that only He could do the saving. He knew that if He chose to create, He would also be choosing to allow the possibility of death - including that of His own Son, Jesus Christ. But He also knew that death could not hold Him (more evidence that He is wise and omniscient!). In one act, God was both creating and saving at the same time. What a loving act, to create with His own sacrifice in mind. To bring into existence that which He would forever sustain, even beyond the limitations of the creation, into eternal perfection! 

This, brothers and sisters, is the beauty of the Gospel and the gift of both life - both with creation and grace. Let us think this highly of God and of what we have been given, so that our lives may better reflect this gift - or better yet, the very nature of the Giver Himself.


BF said...

God's creation act is bit darker to me, though, because He knew, of course, that in order for Grace to make sense, He must create/allow examples of those who don't accept His grace (i.e. die forever).

Aaron said...

Right. So is the difficult part for you that God created anyway, or that some people choose to reject grace (and therefore accept the eternal consequences)?

Ryan Hofer said...

what happened to all the people before the doctrine of grace was articulated? Doesn't Paul say something about this?

Aaron said...

Yes, he talks about the doctrines quite extensively in Romans (e.g., chapters 5 & 6), Ephesians, and Galatians.

BF said...

the difficulty for me is that God created us all anyway, knowing that half of all humans would suffer eternally. i guess that's why there are those convenient verses that go "who can know the mind of god?!" "stop personifying god!"

i also just reread Romans 5 and 6, per your suggestion below. wow. it's a pretty confusing passage. i can't help but think Paul may have been pretty confused himself. it seems like he wants to include everything: is man doomed to sin? yes and no. does it matter what you do, in terms of your salvation? yes and no. per Ryan's question: i only found a small section pertaining to the fate of pre-grace people.

"But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." (5:15)

he makes this comment on the heels of mentioning death's reign from "Adam to Moses," so it seems to me like he's ALMOST saying that pre-grace doctrine people are covered by grace... which might imply that pre-grace people go to heaven or something. but he never quite says that. Paul uses the passive voice frequently, like politicians! it makes for a bit more of an ambiguous read (eg. "grace is made abundant to many..." "by the obedience of one shall many be made..." etc).

Aaron said...

Convenient, yes, but also for a reality-check. That we cannot know God's ways reminds us that we are human and God is not; though we can know him, we can never fully know Him because that would mean we would become as God, which is impossible (and which was the root of all sin, including original sin in the Garden).

Yes, Romans can be very confusing! But at the same time, Paul is expositing such incredible and important doctrine that he takes very careful pains to get it right in a thorough manner, which I also appreciate.

John Piper wrote about this much more clearly and informed than I ever could. Specifically, here's a section which elaborates on the question at hand:

We do not deny that all men are the intended beneficiaries of the cross in some sense. 1 Timothy 4:10 says that Christ is "the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." What we deny is that all men are intended as the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in the same way. All of God's mercy toward unbelievers -- from the rising sun (Matthew 5:45) to the worldwide preaching of the gospel (John 3:16) -- is made possible because of the cross.

This is the implication of Romans 3:25 where the cross is presented as the basis of God's righteousness in passing over sins. Every breath that an unbeliever takes is an act of God's mercy withholding judgment (Romans 2:4). Every time the gospel is preached to unbelievers it is the mercy of God that gives this opportunity for salvation.

Whence does this mercy flow to sinners? How is God just to withhold judgment from sinners who deserve to be immediately cast into hell? The answer is that Christ's death so clearly demonstrates God's just abhorrence of sin that he is free to treat the world with mercy without compromising his righteousness. In this sense Christ is the savior of all men.

But he is especially the Savior of those who believe. He did not die for all men in the same sense. The intention of the death of Christ for the children of God was that it purchase far more than the rising sun and the opportunity to be saved. The death of Christ actually saves from ALL evil those for whom Christ died "especially."

If I can summarize it adequately, basically he's saying that Christ died for ALL men (of all times) to have the opportunity for salvation. However, some will choose not to receive it, leaving his atonement then, especially for believers.

BF said...

i read it like this: Christ saves us all, but not at the same rate. He COULD punish all sinners now, but he holds off, so everyone is currently saved, albeit temporarily. He "especially" saves his chosen people, recipients of eternal salvation. but Piper doesn't really mention pre-grace (i.e. pre-Jesus) sinners, which i think is what Ryan was asking, right?

Aaron said...

I think it's more like this: Christ's atonement is offered to all, but not all accept it (some reject it). For those who do accept it, His grace is especially wonderful because of how much they allow Christ to transform them. True, he could punish everyone now but the fact that He does not is mere grace as well.

So I guess it doesn't answer the question very well. A better way of thinking about it would be this: salvation has always been about faith. Before Christ, the object of faith was God and the means was His revelations. So those in Old Testament times were responsible for responding to God's promises with faith in what He had promised, which was to be their salvation. However, even Old Testament faith pointed to a Savior who would perfect it and abolish the (imperfect, really) Law. So when Christ came to fulfill the Law, everyone previous to that was believing that God would somehow save them - even though they didn't know it would be Jesus Christ the person. Ultimately it was still God, and still faith in God, that saved and continues to save people.

Ryan Hofer said...

Sorry it took me such a long time to get back on this thread. I just read Romans 5 and 6.

"12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come."

This is weird to me because he says there is no sin with no law, but then says that nevertheless death reigned. He never qualifies the nevertheless, or what to do with those people, except that death was reigning over them.

"20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,"

I think this is interesting because it seems Paul is aware that having a law actually increases sin content, but he doesn't seem to subscribe to the paradigm that his conception of God is what creates his issues with sin in the first place. He's still looking for a doctrinal justification to his emotional reactions, maybe influenced by his background and sudden experience with grace.

"I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness."

Not quite sure how to take the human terms comment. Guess my first reaction is that Paul is kind of talking down to this readers.

Anyway, this is quite a wrathful God Paul is talking about. Doesn't seem female at all in this passage. One big issue is death and dying. This action of Adam caused death to reign, but since Christ died we can "join" in his death through baptism. But we don't get to be raised from the dead like him; our souls go to heaven. So this is all quite doctrinally symbolic, which, I think, we have tended to see as TRUTH in the most important sense. I mean the abstract narrative story conceptualization, which Paul pushes here. I think the other, more female sense, would be to see grace salvation as embodied and inseparable from our immediate present experience.

Which is why I am curious about all those peeps who never had to grapple with Paul as canonical :)

Aaron said...

Thanks for checking back here to continue the discussion, Ryan. :-) I'll try to respond with numbers (to each of your comments) so it's easier to follow.

1. Here's an analogy: baseball needs rules. Without rules, the game would be chaos. However, even if players were continuing to run the bases even though the opponent caught their hit ball, they would not be considered breaking the rules until the rules were instituted. So it is with sin; until the law was given, death reigned because of the pattern of behavior man was taking which led to death. Once the law was given, the sin could be called what it was all along - a violation of God's laws.

2. It wasn't the law that's the problem - it's the sin. When the law was introduced, people began looking for more ways to get around it without being guilty (craftiness), which increased the sin. As a result, as you read throughout the OT you see more and more commands being added to the original Ten (God was trying to hold men accountable for their trespasses). Ultimately, though, the cycle would never end and men would need a way out - grace, which only God could provide.

3. Paul is actually giving an example to clarify his point from the previous paragraph. He's trying to describe spiritual things with human words and ideas, which don't translate very well without practical examples (i.e., "human terms").

What's wrong with a wrathful God? If Paul were to make Him out to be anything less, God would cease to be holy and just (rightly punishing sin).

We do join with Christ in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:1-11).

4. On a side note, you mentioned "female" and "feminine" aspects of God and Paul a couple times. I'm curious as to what your interest and intent is there?

Ryan Hofer said...

about #4, I was thinking that both male and female come from God, and God is written about as feminine in other parts of the Bible, and this passage seems to emphasize a sort of logical reasoning of what is going on, which I see as more male.

I can see the need for rules in baseball, but I think the analogy is very limited. There is also the realm of art in which the rules are not clearly defined, though there are parameters and limitations in each medium. And of course, there have been many different games played with many different sets of rules. People enjoy these games for different reasons, but rarely will people claim that one set of rules is to be applied to all athletes.

As far as God being wrathful, I feel there are a lot of consequences to this characterization. It sets up a fight between man and God, it suggests that other people better get in line with one particular view of God or they will get punished, and it contributes to the anxiety of not doing one's life correctly.

Ryan Hofer said...

One more thought; if we make contact with an alien species which is conscious, would that change the way we view the Christian story and salvation? If they had no Jesus story, do you think it would then be our responsibility to evangelize them? Or I wonder if they would try to evangelize us. This is assuming that our encounter with them is peaceful and they don't just decide to enslave us. I'm totally serious about this question. It is in the same realm as the pre-Jesus question.

Bryan, remember that book The Sparrow? It touched on this a little, as far as the Jesuits sending that priest.

Aaron said...

Actually, male and female qualities are not attributes of God. He is the Creator of which all things derive, and is a spirit with human-like characteristics. That he reveals Himself in these ways does not mean he is male or female, but rather than He is revealing Himself in ways that males and females can understand and relate to.

True, the analogy breaks down, but let us not reject the passage simply for this reason. Rather, we should try and better understand what it means. The analogy is simply a tool to help us understand the passage itself, not to draw us away from it and debate about the analogy or other metaphors.

Ahhh, now we're getting somewhere. :-) Your last paragraph is very true, yet difficult. The whole point of God's story (HIStory) and of the Bible is precisely this: there is a war between man and God, and there can only be one winner. God, being Creator, has determined what that victory must look like (Christ on the cross) and how to acquire it (faith). There is no other view we can have of God or of ourselves other than the view He offers; if we reject this, we reject God (and choose ourselves).

Ryan, God gave us this anxiety of not doing one's life correctly for a reason. Being created in His image and knowing right from wrong, we experience sensations when we are behaving in one of those fashions, which is the direct result of our choice - again, the fight between man and God.

Regarding the alien question... I think we need to question this possibility first of all. Currently, we don't have any evidence of aliens existing, and Scripturally the Bible does not mention God creating "the heavens, earth, and other planets" or creating "birds of the sky, beasts of the field, and aliens from outer space." If you're interested in more informed info on this, here's a good link that describes the Biblical problem of salvation for aliens.

Ryan Hofer said...

If I'm reading the link correctly, we will not discover moral beings on other planets, because they do not fit into the Biblical interpretation the author subscribes to. The author also writes about the Earth being created before the sun, moon, and stars. This was an interesting article about how some people estimate the age of the sun:

(how do you embed links?)

I'm not clear on your writing about God giving us anxiety and sensations. Can you elaborate on that?

Aaron said...

To embed links, you can use the following code:
[a href="wwwDOTyourlinkhereDOTcom"]text to display as a link[/a] (substitute the [ and ] symbols for < and >).

Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity about being created in the image of God, which means that we have an innate sense of what is right and wrong, and that we know - even feel - when this implanted sense of justice has been violated. This universal discomfort against inequality and injustice is evidence that there is a standard by which we are responding to - an absolute right that has been violated.

Ryan, you said you wanted to know God. Where are you looking to know Him? Are you seeking Him where and how He has revealed Himself, and where He said he can be known (in His Word, and in the person of Jesus Christ)? Are you seeking answers to questions, or simply seeking to ask more questions? Do you desire to know God, or simply to know?

I'm curious as to how this message would impact you; if you think it speaks to you. After listening to it today myself, it seems like it describes you - that the freedom of thought you seek is actually the thing that robs you of it, leaving you paralyzed. Let me summarize this point with two phrases I've run into recently, from men who are far more intelligent than I:

As Chesterton put it, "So he who wills to reject nothing, wills the destruction of will; for will is not only the choice of something, but the rejection of almost everything."

And as Mohler stated in the above linked message, "The real crisis is not what we cannot know, but what we will not know."

Ryan Hofer said...

Thanks for the link Aaron, I'll check it out. Perhaps the aliens question came off as snarky since I added the invasion aspect, which is a weird thought, but I do wonder about our consciousness and intellectual capacity in a bigger sort of way sometimes.

BF said...

i do not see anxiety as a tool given to us by a god, so that we may better evaluate life's decisions. i never used to care about throwing plastic cups in the trash, but my perspective has changed over the past 15 years. with the knowledge that i am contributing to a polluted planet, i anxiously regard other everyday actions (sins) that i may unwittingly commit.

what about all those past sins? my perspective has changed, read: the law has changed. should i be aware that i'm unintentionally doing something wrong/sinful/impractical, right now? of course. should i be anxious about it? IMO, as little as possible.

my anxiety manifests itself in forms of detachment; i cease to involve myself practically in the matter at hand, because i worry of knowing the truth. this is not physically or emotionally healthy, nor is it a good way of making decisions.

Aaron and Ryan, i believe that the "anxious believer" uses her language to keep her anxiety at bay. at the very least, she gravitates towards those who use comforting language. black & white language like "war," "victor," and "death" are actually very comforting, as long you're on the winning side. the probability though, of me--anxious and overly analytical me--stumbling upon the one and only correct perspective, out of HUNDREDS of perspectives, is so low it's laughable.

and what if i did get lucky-- unfairly born into a family who happens to believe the only true religion ever? will this dissuade my anxiety?

probably not, because i may have misheard my god. or perhaps i'm like the millions of humans who lived for thousands of years in pre-Jesus civilizations: perhaps i haven't yet heard, understood, or experienced the epiphany! what then! doomed to hell, that's what. wrath of the god. anxiety.

BF said...

also, i listened to the Mohler sermon/lecture on the way down to Eugene today. he makes fair points about a general religious transition from sensual consciousness to intellectual consciousness (exemplified in the Enlightenment and Reformation) on the part of the "common people." he also correctly implies that, historically, power has afforded the "ruling class" ability to exemplify this, more so than the "common people."

but Mohler's baseline assumption (undeclared) is that a god exists and has bestowed on humans a uniquely unknowable consciousness.

his comments on the self-awareness of other animals are weak, as is his statement that all humans are engaged in a collective conspiracy to fool themselves. given a divine mandate, you might make the same argument about tigers: that they could conceivably lead a better existence if they could overcome their innate (conspiratorial) tendency to stop eating when full. if tigers took steps to domesticate their prey, eradicate all rival predators, etc, they could fulfill a much different destiny. while this might not be a sustainable way of tiger-life, it can't be much worse/less fulfilling than their current state. they are almost extinct, thanks to humans.

it seems silly to imagine tigers as a fallen, conspiratorial species, i know. but that's what it sounds like when we talk about humans like that too.

Aaron said...

There develops a problem when you choose to reject everything under the premise that the probability of selecting the one true faith is very low: you end up willfully rejecting even the possibility of accepting anything, which is the equivalent to suicide of thought (as Chesterton puts it).

If you want to know God, you must accept by faith some things about God that He claims to have revealed to everyone, such as that He alone is God, that He is the one true way, and that He has revealed Himself throughout history. Old Testament believers did not know Jesus yet they still believed God and trusted His promises. They had the more difficult job of trusting without seeing; we have the luxury of trusting with the knowledge of the life of Jesus Christ - God incarnate. So much has been made clear to us which was not as clear - yet still understandable - hundreds of years ago in pre-Jesus times.

So the real question that gets us anywhere (rather than drifting into the abyss of nothingness) is how are you seeking to know God? If it's anywhere other than the Bible, then you are not seeking to know God but rather to simply know; you are rejecting God in favor of accepting self, for either God is God or self is God. All of the questions that get raised either line up with or fall down against God's revelation of Himself and Creation (including us humans), depending on which perspective we choose to follow (God's, or our own).

Genesis 3:5
Isaiah 55:6-9
Jeremiah 17:9-10
1 Corinthians 1:19-31
1 Corinthians 2:6-16
1 Corinthians 8:1b-3.

Ryan Hofer said...

I'm not much of a church historian, but I think there are a lot of social issues connected to what you are writing. Chesterton ended up within the Catholic Church, and he also passed away in 1936. I feel like I can believe many things in a sort of provisional/functional way, knowing that new information will affect what I am thinking. The Catholic Church seems much more orthodox and slower to change than Protestantism. But this gets us back to earlier posts, dealing with knowing God and faith. Why not go to a priest and participate in rituals? This seems like a way to know one's place in the world. But Protestants and Evangelicals seem to value a personal understanding of scripture, or at least an understanding informed by one's peers who are also reading the Bible.

Aaron said...

You're getting close, Ryan, but not quite there. You're still seeking consequences rather than the source; instead of looking at how others understand God, first you need know God Himself because He is unchanging and eternal whereas everything else is not. If anything, the constancy of God should bring comfort and peace to our anxiety. In fact, Randy Alcorn just wrote a blog post on this similar issue right here. Once you know and understand God (on His terms), He defines your place in this world. You cannot do it
the other way around (find your place and then know God, for Scripture says our identity is in Christ).

One question I would be curious about for you, Ryan, is what keeps you from approaching God Himself? You don't have to answer that publicly here, but it would be a good question to ask yourself and answer honestly, wherever that takes you. I think this will reveal a lot, and explain some of the difficulty you have with God and Christianity (I'm suspecting the problem is found not with God but with self).

Ryan Hofer said...

I feel like we're operating on two different sets of expectations for posts...

Aaron said...

What are your expectations for these posts?

I've been operation on the assumption that you want to know God, and that what we talk and think about is for that purpose.

Ryan Hofer said...

We should talk about it in person next time we see each other, but off the top of my head, I guess I was trying to find out a little about how you connect what you write to your life, and to an educated view of our current human situation.

Ryan Hofer said...

like nuances I guess

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