The Oracles of God

The scriptures are essential to spiritual life (Ps 119:9); to depart from their precepts is to walk in darkness. (Is 8:20) They’re given by inspiration (2Ti 3:16) to make us wise unto eternal salvation (2Ti 3:15), providing more evidence of spiritual reality than any miracle ever could. (Lk 16:31)

The Red Sea Pillar

But how do we know what scripture is? What documents should we consider to be inspired of God? How do we go about validating this? What tests should we apply? Several characteristics are common to all of the books included in the Bible, giving us ample clues.

To begin, we know that Jesus Christ, the greatest figure in human history, accepted the 39 books of the Old Testament cannon as scripture (Lk 24:44); He acted as if the Jews of His day had correctly identified all scripture, and only scripture, within these texts. (Jn 5:39) This is now a well-documented, historical fact.

And Christ’s Apostles identified certain new texts penned in their own era as inspired, the 27 books of the New Testament, which recorded the details of Christ’s teaching and ministry, the history of the early church, and how to rightly understand the ways and nature of God in light of all that had already been revealed. (2Pe 3:16) This is also a well-documented, historical fact.

All of these 66 texts in the cannon of Scripture, the Bible, have several unique qualities in common, which are to be expected from scripture:

  1. All scripture is committed to the Jews, God’s chosen people (Ro 3:1-2), who have recognized each inspired text, acknowledged it as scripture, and committed themselves to preserving it for us all. Just as salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:22), so also are the scriptures, which teach us the Way of salvation, of the Jews.
  2. Scripture does not exalt any mere mortal to spiritual prominence or importance. The authors of scripture often did not even know that they were writing scripture; they did not do so in order to promote or enrich themselves. Those who did write any details about themselves admitted faults which implicated themselves as fallen souls, much in need of grace. There is no record of any author of any biblical text proclaiming that God had perfectly inspired the text through themselves. The assertion and confirmation of inspiration was made independently, through godly men and women who were not in any kind of league with the author to promote them. (Lk 14:11, (Pr 27:2)
  3. Scripture does not contradict any truth of any kind; each text retains a perfect integrity with every other inspired text (Pr 30:5), with science (1Ti 6:20), and with history. (De 18:21)
  4. All scripture is generally received by the people of God as the Word of God. (Ps 119:105) As a pillar upholds a roof and connects it with the ground, so the church upholds the truth of God as His Spirit reveals it to her (1Jn 2:27), and teaches her how to translate that truth into godly behavior. (1Ti 3:15) As a spiritual community, the early Jewish Christians recognized the spiritual power of the Word of God in the New Testament cannon and affirmed it, piece by piece, just as their fathers had recognized the Old Testament cannon of scripture.
  5. All scripture is profitable for godly instruction (2Ti 3:16), teaching us how to walk with God. It glorifies God, not man (1Co 1:29), and feeds our spirits so that we grow up into the image of Christ. (1Pe 2:2)

All scripture is sacred: add not unto His words, and neglect them at your peril. (He 2:1-4) It is living and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword. (He 4:12) Let’s delight in God’s engrafted Word, as a perfect gift, hiding it in our hearts and meditating in it day and night, so that it might quicken us (Ps 119:50), and enable us to rightly divide it. (2Ti 2:15)

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Choose Life

God frequently tells us to be careful in our choices (De_30:19) because they have consequences. (Ga_6:7) He asserts that we have a will, that we are conscious, and that we have a responsibility to choose the good and refuse the evil. (Is_7:15) There is a moral law, and we violate it at our peril.

To all of us, each and every one of us, this is self-evident, that we have the ability to make choices: that we are conscious and aware of the options of both good and evil choices before us, and that we have an obligation to make good choices.

Atheism, however, asserts that only matter and energy exist, and that matter and energy are not conscious. This implies there is no consciousness, thus no free choice, and no good or evil. This implies that our perception of free will and moral choice is merely an illusion in our brains, implying that we are no more than mechanical robots, programmed by evolution to act as we do. Atheists assert this because it is implied by atheism, not because there is any actual evidence for it.

Even Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle does not provide for conscious, moral choice; it only provides for the possibility of random, unconscious, amoral behavior.

When accepting proposition A implies conclusion B, and B is false, we know from the logical contrapositive that A is also false. This is called proof by contradiction. In other words, the fact that atheism implies we are not conscious, and that we make no voluntary choices, and that there is no moral reality, conclusions which we know by experience to be false, proves that atheism is false.

It is true that while we are alive in our body we are intimately linked with our brains, which operate with chemicals and electricity, but we are not merely our brains: we are more than bodies. We live through our bodies and think through our brains, but our thoughts are not merely impulses in our brains any more than we are merely our bodies. In other words, we are intimately connected with Nature, but we are not merely of Nature: we are eternal, made in God’s image.

Our ability to think and to choose, to understand Nature, something Nature by itself cannot do, proves we are above Nature, that we exist outside of and apart from Nature, such that we can look at Nature as an outside observer. This is the foundation of epistemology, the science of knowledge, that enables us to perceive, understand and know the living God, and the universe He created.

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A Sound Mind

The role of the mind in the spiritual life a difficult, interesting and important subject. How are we to follow the Spirit, and receive “spiritual discernment” and direction from God, apart from our intellect?

Should we look for a feeling in our gut, perhaps a familiar peaceful voice, and presume it’s the Holy Spirit? Should we neglect to evaluate this impression with our intellect?

Apart from our mind, this is our only option, and briefly considering the consequences highlights the obvious: this isn’t God’s design, but mindless foolishness. God gave us our mind for a reason (1Ti 1:7); we should use it.

There’s such a thing as a carnal mind (Ro 8:6-7), but that’s very different than saying our mind is inherently carnal.

There’s such a thing as a corrupt mind (1Ti 6:5), but that’s very different than saying our mind is inherently corrupt.

There’s such a thing as a fleshly mind (Col 2:18), but that’s very different than saying our mind is inherently fleshly.

It’s with the mind that we serve the law of God (Ro 7:25); it’s where God puts His laws. (He 8:10)

God commands us: “Gird up the loins of your mind (1Pe 1:13); in other words, we’re never to neglect it, turn it off or be passive in using it, but always doing our best to think clearly, rightly, thoroughly and correctly. There are no exceptions to this; we must do this always, constantly. This is wisdom: the most important thing we can seek after. (Pr 4:7)

Being mentally passive is therefore never spiritual, it can’t be; it’s always foolish, childish, immature. (1Co 14:20)

Jesse Penn-Lewis, author of the classic, War On the Saints, claims passivity of the mind is the chief basis of demon possession. (ch 4) The enemy tries to bypass our minds and gain control of us by lying to us about the right use of our mind, so we don’t use it to identify and resist him. This is central to his war against us.

The very act of thinking must be spiritual: matter and electricity can’t do this on its own, so thought itself can’t be merely physical; it must be metaphysical. And we’re always thinking; as we think, so we are. (Pr 23:7) As we think according to truth we’re godly and spiritual, all else in us is carnal and fleshly. It isn’t so much about whether we’re thinking, but how we’re thinking.

When we deliberately set our minds aside, we’ve nothing left but emotion to lead us, and that’s not how God’s designed us to function. The enemy is a spirit, and will gladly infiltrate us, giving us lying emotions if we allow him through mental passivity. Every opening we hand over to him he’ll penetrate, like a poisonous gas.

Repentance is a change in thinking that produces godly feelings and actions. Every lie we hold (in our mind) is an opening for Satan, but God gives us repentance through godly instruction as we pursue truth so we can recover ourselves from the snare of the devil. (2Ti 2:25-26) We receive His instruction as the key to our freedom, taking heed to our way in order to cleanse it. (Ps 119:9)

We can’t identify truth by how it makes us feel; that’s how the wicked live. (Ep 2:2) To be renewed in the spirit of our mind (Ro 12:2), we need to buy the truth (Pr 23:23), crying after knowledge, understanding (Pr 2:3-5) and sound wisdom (Pr 2:7), evaluating our feelings by the truth.

We seek truth wherever we can find it, in science and in history, but primarily by meditating on God’s Law (Ps 1:2), constantly exposing our thought patterns to God’s Way, hunting down every false way, every thinking pattern that’s contrary to truth, so we can root out all enemy access to our souls.

We prayerfully seek truth through reason (Is 1:18), vetting new ideas based on what we already know to be true, such that we’re always ready to provide a reason for our hope to all who ask. (1Pe_3:15) This is a mental discipline, as well as a spiritual one (2Ti 2:15), in which we must cultivate and train ourselves. (He 5:14) It can’t be a choice of one or the other, mind or spirit: it must be both – and.

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Why Hidest Thou?

Sometimes it seems like God’s far away, hard to find, like He’s hiding, especially in dark or painful times. It’s natural to ask why God isn’t more in-your-face, especially to unbelievers and atheists, why He isn’t making things so much more obvious. Why does He choose to reveal Himself like this, in what may seem like such a covert or obscure manner? It’s a reasonable question; even the Psalmist asks it. (Ps 10:1)

In the context of God providing sufficient evidence of His existence and character, the question itself betrays a lying presumption: that God hasn’t already left us ample witness of Himself. God affirms otherwise: He’s given us infallible proof (Ac 1:3), such that there’s no excuse for not knowing and glorifying Him (Ro 1:19-21): Creation itself proclaims the glorious existence of God in every language, among all people. (Ps 19:1-3) Those who complain about a lack of evidence for God are ignorant and blind at best (Ep 4:17-18): it’s overwhelming and abundant, once we see it, but God must first open our hearts so that we’re willing to see it.

In the context of why God doesn’t answer all our questions, or why He allows pain and suffering instead of intervening and protecting us, the question often nurses a complaint, an assumption that God isn’t always perfectly revealing Himself in every time and circumstance. This then is a kind of idolatry, making God out to be as we’d like Him to be, rather than enjoying Him as He is, and it doesn’t get us very far. God doesn’t do the dog and pony show to entertain and amaze us; that’s the enemy’s way. (Re 13:12-13) We must trust that God has an end goal, a glorious purpose in everything He does and doesn’t do.

Asked as a general inquiry into the nature and heart of God, which is evidently how the Psalmist asks it, wanting to know Him more deeply, to understand a bit more why He does as He does, there’s rich treasure here. (Ro 11:33) There’s a hint given us in Revelation: when God fully manifests Himself, it appears that every created thing outside of God flees in a dreadful panic, looking for places to hide. (Re 20:11) So, it appears that if God didn’t vail Himself in some way, that very few of us on Earth would be able to function very much, if at all. We’re all still broken, struggling against sin to varying degrees, yet God’s absolute, undiluted holiness incapacitates everyone and everything that remains tainted with sin.

For God’s enemies to be able function, to act like enemies, to play out the saga of human history as God has ordained (1Pe 2:8), the struggle of good versus evil, He must allow His enemies to live apart from Him, alienated from Him. This requires Him to take a back seat for now, as it were, and work behind the scenes, largely unnoticed.

But a Day will certainly come (1Co 3:13) where God will no longer be back stage, but will be front and center. (Je 10:10) At that time there’ll be no more deception, no more ambiguity, no more uncertainty, only absolute holiness and insane depravity, ultimate light and unbridled darkness, extreme fullness and extreme emptiness. Everything and everyone that God hasn’t planted will be rooted up and rooted out (Mt 15:13) – nothing alien to Him will abide His presence. (Joe 2:11)

Until that Day, let’s enjoy the privilege of seeking Him, pursuing Him, aligning with Him, cleaving to Him and abiding in Him in every way that we can, so that when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)

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Jesus Stooped Down

As Jesus is teaching in the temple early one morning, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Him that they’ve captured in the very act of adultery. (Jn 8:2-3a) They set her down before the crowd, and start asking Christ if He’ll honor the Mosaic Law (Jn 8:4-5), which requires her to be stoned to death. (De 22:22)

Their motive in doing so is to accuse Him (Jn 8:6a); they’re setting a trap: if He sides with the woman, then the people will recognize He can’t be their Messiah (Is 8:20); yet if He sides with Moses, He’ll be in trouble with Rome. (Jn 18:31) No matter what Christ does, they think they have Him.

But Christ doesn’t answer them; He stoops down, ignoring their question, and begins writing with His finger in the dust on the temple pavement. (Jn 8:6b) His enemies, evidently energized by the thought of finally stumping Him, begin pressing Him for an answer (Jn 8:7a)

But then Christ does something striking: He rises up, publicly invites anyone who is sinless to go ahead and throw the first stone, and then He returns to writing in the dust. (Jn 8:7b-8)

Christ honors the Law, but in a way that’s fitting for their circumstance: lawful subjects of a foreign civil power. God gave the Law to Israel to enforce as a sovereign community, not as individuals living under pagan rule. But a sinless person acting on God’s behalf should be able to call on God to rescue them when the Roman soldiers storm the place. So, Christ effectively says, “If you feel you’ve got God on your side enough to defy Roman law, be My guest: go for it.”

As the accusers begin contemplating what He’s just invited them to do, and also noticing what kinds of things He’s writing in the dust, they scatter, every last one of them, being convicted by their own conscience. (Jn 8:9)

Exactly what Christ writes on the ground is a mystery, but the narrative suggests that He’s exposing the sins of the accusers, how they’re all presumptuously breaking God’s Law, and are worthy of death. (Nu 15:30) After all, they aren’t even following this particular law that they’re asking Christ to honor: in their ploy, they hadn’t incriminated the adulterous man, as the Law requires. (De 22:22)

The fact that Christ doesn’t enforce Mosaic Law here tempts many to claim this as evidence that He came to abolish it and give us a better one. Nothing could be farther from the truth: He Himself says so, explicitly. (Mt 5:17-19) Court is adjourned, not because God’s Law is obsolete, but because the community has opted out: there’s no one left to carry out the sentence. (Jn 8:10-11a)

Christ’s wisdom here lies in the fact that lawful punishment must only be carried out by recognized civil authority. Christ Himself is not obligated, as a single individual under Roman civil law, to enforce it, and He chooses not to. (Jn 8:11b) It’s the prudent choice, a testament to His infinite wisdom and discernment.

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Be Content

The key to living in contentment, free of covetousness (Ep 5:3) and lust, lies in a promise: God has said, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” (He 13:5)

This promise is found in multiple places, as a promise to His people as an holy nation (De 31:6) comprising all of God’s children (1Pe 2:9), and to individuals (Jos 1:5) called according to His purpose. (Ro 8:28) How does this great and precious promise enable us to partake of the divine nature (2Pe 1:4), curing us of covetousness?

Covetousness is an unholy wanting, seeking after that which is forbidden us in Torah (Ro 7:7), pursuing what is contrary to God’s purpose and will for us. (Ro 12:2) It’s ultimately a form of idolatry (Col 3:5), creating a god of our own liking, a fundamental denial of the infinitude of God, an attack upon His goodness and faithfulness, rooted in that primal lie that God’s Law is keeping something good from us. (Ge 3:5) Lust is the desperate heart cry of one who fails of the grace of God (He 12:15), who’s forgotten the power and wisdom of God. (1Co 1:24)

Knowing that God is with us, that He is sufficient to supply all our need (Php 4:19), frees us from all unholy desire: if God has forbidden it we don’t need it, and it would ultimately harm us and dishonor Him. Trusting God is knowing His pleasure is ultimately for our welfare and His glory, that He’s sovereign, and that He’s perfectly good.

Being content with such things as we have, in having our basic physical needs met (1Ti 6:8), is not merely a reference to the material things of life; it extends beyond to all that we need. By His Word through His Spirit, God is equipping us with everything we need to live for Him. (2Ti 3:16-17) We aren’t perfect, for sure, and while we should ever be striving to add more virtue and knowledge to our faith (2Pe 1:5), we can be content that God is our sufficiency (2Co 3:5), that He has designed us with the gifts, experiences and temperaments that are perfectly suited to His unique and glorious purpose in each of us. (1Co 12:18).

Grasping the infinite treasure that is ours in God leaves no room for unholy passion; the cure for our covetousness is found in His promises. Contentment is an enabling grace that’s learned (Php 4:11), a soul discipline, a pillar of spiritual health.

Let’s ask God to incline our hearts away from covetousness towards His testimonies (Ps 119:36), and then apply ourselves to root out every trace of lust with the very nature of God, by letting the truth of His Way penetrate every crevasse of our mind and soul. Every step toward godliness and contentment is great gain. (1Ti 6:6)

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The Creature Waits

Creation, all created things, evidently have a common consciousness: God says the whole creation groans together (Ro 8:22); created things are waiting, earnestly expecting the resurrection and manifestation of God’s children. (Ro 8:19)

Since the individual animals with this expectation are constantly dying, just like we are, the implication here is that all created things are excitedly aware that they will all experience the resurrection of the dead together in all its glory along with us. (Ro 8:21)

Interestingly, Albert Barnes says of this text: Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been deemed more difficult of interpretation than this; and after all the labors bestowed on it by critics, still there is no explanation proposed which is perfectly satisfactory, or in which commentators concur. It appears that reluctance to accept its plain, apparent meaning might lie in contradicting science, which we ought not allow. (1Ti 6:20-21)

Yet recent scientific discoveries in the paranormal are indicating this very thing, that all life forms, plants and animals, are connected in a common consciousness across time, and even that inanimate objects participate in this. Perhaps they are indeed struggling together with us under the stain of sin, in a universe infected by Man’s rebellion (Job 25:5), waiting for the adoption of the saints. (Ro 8:23)

What if God has temporarily silenced the creature (Ro 8:20), to allow men to rebel against Him with less obvious incrimination for a time? (Ro 11:32-33) If all Creation were free to proclaim God’s praise now (Lk 19:40), where would hatred and rebellion hide until wickedness is to be exposed? (2Th 2:7-8) And what if, in that final glorious day, all of creation will join with us in praising our living, transcendent, almighty Creator … together!

This insight puts Creation in an entirely different perspective, and encourages us to both treat it with respect, and also to enjoy the miracle of God’s expression of Himself through it all so much the more.

The heavens declare the glory of God, may be much more than metaphor. (Ps 19:1) It is truly for His pleasure that they are, and were created. (Re 4:11)

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Perverse Disputings

Assuming others might know something I don’t, and being open to learning from them, makes perfect sense; I don’t know everything about anything, so I can potentially learn something from everyone I meet.

But there are certain people with whom I should avoid engaging in prolonged or repeated discussions, those who fail to think in a certain way. Paul refers to perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and exhorts us to withdraw from such folk. (1Ti 6:3-5)

Evidently, there’s a certain kind of attitude in debate that’s perverted, unhealthy, irrational, twisting and corrupting the purpose of debate. When a person isn’t thinking clearly, having lied to themselves so often that they’ve seared their own conscience (1Ti 4:2), there isn’t any way to reach them with facts and evidence, so we must have some other purpose in engaging them in conversation, or we’ll be be frustrated and irritated. (Pr 29:9)

There’s a difference between being ignorant, and being self-deceived. I tend to make the mistake of thinking that if people just have enough evidence then they’ll change their minds. The longer I live, the more I think this is a rarity. Most people aren’t open to learning and changing their minds about anything; they’re just in the debate to exalt themselves by putting others in the wrong, but this isn’t the purpose of debate.

Healthy debate can only occur between two people who are both seeking truth, and it’s extremely beneficial, iron sharpening iron. Outside that unique context, we need to set expectations reasonably, and persist only to improve our own understanding, enhancing our own ability to give an answer to him who asks sincerely (1Pe 3:15), not expecting to help those who aren’t.

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God Created

The Bible begins with a profound statement: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Ge 1:1) It’s a scientific statement, yet it’s also obviously a metaphysical and a spiritual one, a link between spirituality and science. How so?

The 1st and 2nd Laws of Thermodynamics, basic rules which no scientific observation has ever violated, tell us: [1] matter and energy can’t be created, or come into existence from nothing, naturally (The Law of Conservation of Energy explicitly states this.); and [2] the universe came into existence – it’s not infinitely old; it had a beginning, before which there was nothing (The Law of Increasing Entropy implies this by contradiction: an infinitely old universe would be at steady state with maximum entropy, and our universe is not so).

Putting these two facts together implies that a supernatural event, a miracle, must occur for anything at all to exist – the material universe had to be created by a deity. In other words, the basic, time-tested laws of physics prove that God exists. To deny this is to deny everything we’ve ever discovered about the universe through science.

And, by definition, a miracle is a spiritual thing, an act of deity which reveals the existence, nature and character of the divine. The earth and the heavens are such a miracle, declaring the glory of God (Ps 19:1) to all Mankind. (Ro 1:20)

So why are there atheists and agnostics? Those I’ve encountered say science has discredited and replaced spirituality, that it can explain anything. Yet it seems to me that skeptics must ignore science in order to persist in disbelief. They appear to be living exactly like the religious simpletons they disdain, blindly ignoring the One they’re desperately hoping doesn’t exist.

If we don’t obey the truth we already know we deceive ourselves. (Ja 1:22) We’re each accountable for how we respond to evidence; a persistent unwillingness to acknowledge God and seek after Him (Ac 17:27) reveals an enmity towards Him that’s entirely unjustified. (Ro 8:6) It would make anyone with any self-respect angry to be treated like this — of course it makes God angry(Ro 1:18-19) Why wouldn’t it?

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He Hardeneth

Scripture teaches God controls us all, even deciding our eternal fate, having mercy on a few of us and hardening the rest. (Ro 9:18) Is God then unfair to condemn us, since He controls us? (Ro 9:19)

This seems so obviously wrong, even asking the question is embarrassing. But obviousness is often the enemy of correctness; in the end, how can any complaint against the goodness of God be rational? (Ro 9:14) Perhaps an illustration will help.

Single block ice sculpture, World Ice Art Championship, Fairbanks AK

Suppose we dwell in a frigid climate where we enjoy three things: lounging in a hot tub under crisp, starlit heavens; ice water bathing; and competing in the annual ice sculpture festival. Being thrifty and innovative, we design special panels we can assemble into water-tight tubs of various shapes and sizes. When we want a steamy evening outside, we put one together, fill it with water and drop in a heating element. When we want our ice bath, we back off the heat to just above freezing and take the plunge; and at sculpture time we pull the heater, let it freeze, pull the panels and put our genius to work.

With a reliable water heater we can control the state of the water in our tub as we please, from steamy to frozen solid, by precisely controlling the heat we supply. In making ice we could say we’re “hardening” the water, but we’re really just withdrawing heat and leaving the water alone; where we live, water hardens naturally all by itself, and very predictably.

In the same way, God controls us by resisting our fallen, sinful nature (Ps 19:13), either reining in our depravity (De 18:14) (i.e. heating the water), or giving us up to pursue our own evil ways as He sees fit (Ps 81:12) (i.e. letting the water freeze). God never actively causes anyone to sin (Ja 1:13-14), or forcefully hardens anyone; we do that all on our own whenever He lets us.

God’s hardening is passive, simply letting us go our own way (Pr 1:31), not forcing us; when left to ourselves, we obey the law of sin operating within us (Ro 7:23), so we’re as predictable as the law of gravity. God knows exactly what we’ll do in every circumstance if He withdraws His grace from us. Just as we can control an object‘s elevation by only pushing it upward, never causing it to fall, God can precisely control us by restraining our evil nature without causing us to sin. (Pr 16:9)

God isn’t unloving or unjust in letting us sin; it’s the essence of free will, and we’re no less guilty because we always want to sin as much as He allows. (Ro 3:19) Neither is God unfair in restraining us, some much more than others: it’s all His mercy(Ro 9:23)

God’s purpose in all this is ultimately to glorify Himself by revealing His amazing nature(Ro 9:22) He could do it all differently and save everyone from themselves, but the end result would evidently not be as glorious. He’s doing it all perfectly.

The key to resolving one of the deepest spiritual mysteries, how God can be absolutely sovereign, yet also loving and just, evidently lies in the depravity of Man, the puzzle piece most of us overlook. Depravity is simply what happens when God let’s do our own thing (Ge 6:5), and nothing obligates Him to override everyone’s natural will. His choice to intervene and only quicken and transform some of us isn’t unfair, it’s brilliant. (Ro 9:16) Anything else is lackluster at best.

God is rejoicing in how He’s responding to sin (Mt 11:25-26), and we should be too (Php 4:4): He’s always in perfect control of it. (Ep 1:11) Exactly what it will all look like in the end remains to be seen, but I expect it will be amazing, like everything else He does. (Re 15:4) In seeing all of life from God’s perspective, we can give thanks always for all things with joy(Ep 5:20)

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