Friday, November 18, 2011

Trusting in God's sovereignty

I was thinking on God's sovereignty today, remembered Macarthur's answer to a question about trusting God, then remembered how I felt once I understood God is sovereign. Macarthur was asked the following 

"HARDY: Some raise that with the whole concept of trust; that affirming this doctrine and growing in your understanding of it actually builds and increases your trust in God instead of trusting --

MACARTHUR: The greatest thing that a believer can do above and beyond everything is worship. That is the highest responsibility. The sovereignty of God is the single most glorious reality about God. Even His grace would lose its luster if He weren't really in control of it. His mercy would be diminished. It is His sovereignty that over-arches everything. And, you know, when I worship the Lord just as a way of life, it doesn't matter what happens. It doesn't matter if I'm well or sick; it doesn't matter if I live or die; it doesn't matter if things go well or don't go well. It just never interrupts my confidence in the sovereignty of God. So, you know, I think that's the key to my -- to just living life on the same high level of joy, come whatever comes, because you know that this is all fitting into His perfect plan.

I remember -- this is a good illustration. I remember a few years ago we had some people come here from another church. And, of course, that's not uncommon. But they came from a church where their families were in leadership in the church, pastoral leadership. And so coming here was a big thing. And they came from a charismatic church. And they came here, if I understand the story right, they came here one time when I preached on the sovereignty of God. And they never went back. And what they said to me was we've lived our whole life under the sovereignty of Satan. This is absolutely transforming. Satan makes you sick; Satan messes with your babies; check the kids at night, 3 o'clock in the morning Satan might kill your baby with SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome; pray Satan out of your bedroom, bathroom, dining room, Satan's liable to do -- I mean, you know, Satan made the planes crash into the Towers, Satan does -- everything's -- and poor God, you know, is -- (Pastor indicates by wringing His hands.) And this caused paroxysms of fear, heart palpitation, panic attacks; really unbelievable kind of things.

I mean who could possibly worship God in that kind of environment? Then you get the people together, and you whip them into some kind of emotional frenzy; call it worship. But down underneath it is a theology that literally makes it impossible to worship God, because God's not in charge. The opposite of that, of course, is to understand that everything works within the framework of God's purpose and will. And no matter what happens, you know, even the worst of things, are intended for your good and His ultimate glory."

I also remembered what R.C. Sproul wrote, "Our problem is this: We do not yet possess the full light of the remote. We are still looking in a dark mirror. We are not utterly devoid of light, though. We have enough light to know that God has a good purpose even when we are ignorant of that good purpose.

It is the good purpose of God that gives the final answer to the appearance of vanity and futility in this world. To trust in the good purpose of God is the very essence of godly faith. This is why no Christian can be an ultimate pessimist.

The world in which we live is not a world of chance. Its beginning was not an accident, its operation is not an accident, and its telos, or goal, is not an accident. This is my Father’s world and He rules it without caprice. As long as God exists, vanity is a manifest impossibility."

Given the sovereignty of God, you might wonder the same thing a questioner asked William Lane Craig recently. He wrote, "Your Middle Knowledge response, as far as I can ascertain, is that God knew before he created these people that they would reject the Gospel, so he put them in second century Tibet where it didn't matter anyway. No harm, no foul." Now, Craig gives a long answer (one worth checking out), but I will only post an excerpt:

"1. God is all-powerful and all-loving.
2. Some people never hear the Gospel and are lost.
The Free Will Defense attempts to show that the religious pluralist has not been able to prove a logical incompatibility between (1) and (2) and, moreover, that we can show (1) and (2) to be compatible by adding a third statement which is compatible with (1) and entails (2), to wit,
3. God has created a world having an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the Gospel and are lost would not have believed it even if they had heard it.
Now your objection, Steve, is only to the second part of the Free Will Defense. You don’t think that (3) is possible or plausible.


But now you raise a quite different objection aimed specifically at (3). “Before God sticks Fred in second century Tibet wouldn't He have to ascertain that Fred would freely reject the Gospel in all circumstances, not just some of them?” Well, He wouldn’t have to, but that’s my hypothesis. Clearly, God could place a person anywhere He wants in human history, regardless of how that person might freely behave in different circumstances. But my suggestion is that God, being so merciful and not wanting anyone to be damned, so providentially orders the world that anyone who would embrace the Gospel if he were to hear it will not be placed in circumstances in which he fails to hear it and is lost. Only in the case of someone who would be saved through his response to general revelation would a person who would freely respond to special revelation, if he heard it, find himself in circumstances where he doesn’t hear it.

I’m mystified that you find this suggestion “intuitively unattractive.” On the contrary, I think it magnifies the goodness and abundant graciousness of God, that He would prevent anyone’s being lost though the accidents of history and geography. God is so good that He won’t allow anyone to be lost if that person would under any circumstances respond to the Gospel and be saved. 

In any case, you then go to your plausibility objections. These are just irrelevant, as explained above. So long as (3) is even possibly true, which you seem to concede, it shows that (1) and (2) are logically compatible, Q.E.D.

But I can’t resist saying something about the plausibility of (3). Why isn’t (3) plausible? You suggest that God would have to vet all the options in order to actualize such a world. That’s not really true, but is in any case no problem because the doctrine of middle knowledge entails that God knows which of all the possible worlds known to Him via His natural knowledge are feasible for Him to actualize. All feasible worlds are given to Him by His middle knowledge, so sovereignly picking one is just no problem. 

You suggest, more plausibly, I think, that that there are no persons whom God could have created who would under all circumstances reject His grace for salvation. Maybe you’re right; but how can you know? I just don’t think we’re in a position to make those kinds of judgements. You talk about the insanity of unbelief; and yet such persons are all around us, people who have heard the Gospel again and again, who have the Bible, who have read apologetics material, and yet who refuse to believe. In fact, I’ve had unbelievers say to me on more than one occasion, “Even if I knew that Christianity is true, I still wouldn’t bend the knee!” (Remember we're talking only of freedom-permitting circumstances here.) 

How do you know that God couldn’t put together a world in which the unreached are people who wouldn’t bend the knee under any circumstances? In fact, this hypothesis has real implications for other issues like the wider problem of evil. For example, maybe only in a world involving scads of natural and moral evil could God arrange the sort of world we’re envisioning. Maybe His desire to achieve an optimal balance between saved and lost overrides the benefits of a world with less natural and moral evil. It may well be that getting the right counterfactuals of creaturely freedom in place to achieve (3) involves putting up with a lot of otherwise gratuitous evil. 

Now you ask, why create “Fred” in the first place? Here’s the real nub of the issue, I think, and why you find my hypothesis unattractive. You think God could have just left Fred out. But that’s not true, if my hypothesis is correct! There may be no world feasible for God involving universal, freely embraced salvation which comes without other overriding disadvantages. Sure, God could have refrained from creating Fred (or both Fred and Sophie), but then the resulting world might have been even worse or at least no better. The hypothesis is that God has done the very best He can, given the true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him. 

Your claim that “there are an infinite number of beings God can create who would freely accept the Gospel without somebody else rejecting it” is guilty of the same error you alleged earlier, namely, speaking without a context. Suppose that for any possible person there may be circumstances under which he would be freely saved without someone’s being lost; it doesn’t follow that there is a feasible world in which every person would be freely saved without someone’s being lost. For the relevant circumstances may not be compossible. Your pun on Sophie’s Choice (a choice between two bad options) reveals that you haven’t yet grasped the theory of middle knowledge, for God doesn’t create such a choice for Himself. The counterfactuals of creaturely freedom which confront Him are outside His control. He has to play with the hand He has been dealt.
So I’m a good deal less confident than you are about our ability to pronounce on what worlds are feasible for God. Therefore, I’m not inclined to regard (3) as implausible. In any case, we both agree that it is possible, and that suffices for the purposes of the Free Will Defense." 

Being finite creatures, our scope is limited, we don't have the full light of the remote as Sproul said so we can't know perfectly things like "Why did God create Fred knowing Fred wouldn't be saved?" Notice I said we can't know perfectly things like that, but we can have some grasp on such things. I think Craig gives a good answer to such a hard question. Some Christians do think unbelief is insanity, however there are those who don't. Like Craig, I've heard answers that echo "Well, even I knew for certain Christian theism is true, I still wouldn't bow my knee to such a God." Others wouldn't. Some don't think the evidence for Christian theism is hard enough and consequently don't put their faith in God; these people have said they would believe if there was just harder evidence. The list goes on for reasons why people are Christian theists.

The probability of a world existing of free moral creatures and all of them freely embracing salvation is zero I think. To be truly free, creatures need moral freedom and moral freedom entails at least the possibility of evil in the world. God wanted to accomplish plenitude - the highest good possible; the best of all possible worlds requires moral freedom, which also brings the possibility of evil.

The sovereignty of God is a challenging, yet comforting doctrine. It's challenging due to the raising of questions like "Why did God create person X, knowing he or she wouldn't put faith in Him?" and the other, "Why did God allow this to happen to me or them?" They are hard questions, but they aren't without good answers. The doctrine is comforting in that I know God has a good purpose even when I am ignorant of what that purpose is at the time. Honestly, I am going through some junk right now in my life personally and outside my experience, i.e. my family is going through some junk too. If God was "up there" ringing his hands, trying to keep everything together for everyone then I would wonder just powerful He really is. Would he not be like the mythological gods? I think so. I'm not sure how worthy of worship a god like that would be. Is God's sovereignty a crutch? Not at all. Though it's comforting at times, other times I am upset and quite mad at the lot in my life at that time. I'm human after all. At the end of the day though, I agree with a statement made by William Lane Craig, "...even though the problem of evil is the greatest objection to the existence of God,...God is the only solution to the problem of evil.  If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of evil." 

Check out the multiple resources on the problem of evil here at Apologetics315

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