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 unjust or unloving 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 will allow us to. (Ro 3:19) Neither is God ever unjust or unloving 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, reconciling God’s sovereignty with Man’s free will, evidently lies in the depravity of Man, the puzzle piece most of us overlook. God isn’t unloving or unjust to let us do our own thing, 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 pure mercy. (Ro 9:16) Fairness is letting us all go to Hell.

God has an awesome plan in allowing sin (Mt 11:25-26), and 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. 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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As Though they Were

JEHOVAH inhabits eternity (Is 57:15), dwelling beyond space and time; He knows everything about everything (Ac 15:18), all possible outcomes of all possibile events. He acts on the future as if it’s past (Ro 4:17); there’s no searching of His understanding. (Is 40:28)

As God created space and time, framing the world with His hands (Ps 95:5), He created it with the appearance of age, as if it had already been here a long time. The first man and woman weren’t infants, Eden’s trees weren’t sprouts, and starlight illuminated the world on Day 4. (Ge 1:16)

We know this of the stars because God made them, along with the sun and moon, to light the earth (Ge 1:15,17-18), even though He made them very far away. Since fulfilling His purpose in creating stars requires God to create starlight between Heaven and Earth as though it had been traveling for millions of years, we can be sure He did.

Yet we observe supernova’s exploding millions of light years away, moving some to reason that if God created starlight between us and the cosmos only 6 thousand years ago then He’s playing tricks on us, since these observable events never actually occurred — only existing in photons streaming to Earth, the exploding stars themselves a fiction. They insist God doesn’t play tricks or write fiction: if we see light carrying information about an event, they insist the event must have physically occurred.

But this is like claiming mature trees in Eden, having rings on Day 6 … which isn’t unreasonable … require decades of actual weather patterns before Creation, or that smooth stones in a brook on Day 3 require years of water erosion. God creating a world in motion, with the appearance of age, as if it had already been in existence for a while, isn’t a trick or fiction: it’s genius. How else should He have created the universe? Why is this such a problem?

How is it inconsistent with God’s nature to create light containing information about things that would have been? God knows how the universe would have played itself out had He made it billions of years ago; He can create the cosmos as He pleases anywhere along any space-time continuum. If He gives us a glimpse into a past that exists only in His own mind, this is no lie, but a window into another dimension as God knows it to be. (Mt 11:21)

God speaks of what will be as if it’s already been, and reveals what would have been as if it was. If something exists in the mind of God, what presumption calls this fiction?

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Goodness and Severity

God is awesome in every respect; He’s extreme, infinite in every facet of His being. Everything He is and does should move us to worship.

If we prefer to focus on some particular part of God, rather than taking the whole of Him, we find imbalance, a false god. He is love, most certainly (1Jn 4:8), but He’s also light (1Jn 1:5), even a consuming fire (He 12:29), a terror to all who live in sin, to be feared by us all. (Php 2:12)

God calls us to behold His goodness and severity together (Ro 11:22), to be awed in both Heaven and Hell at once. (Re 15:3) We’re to glory in His kindness (Lk 6:35) as well as His justice, vengeance and fury. (Re 18:20)

It’s only in seeking God in all His attributes at once, where they converge in fullness and glory, that we discover Him. As we take in all of God honestly, delighting in all His ways, drinking in everything about Him without bias, preference or reservation, we’re sanctified, changed, transformed more and more into His likeness by His Spirit. (2Co 3:18)

Behold the beauty in God’s grace (Ep 1:6) and mercy as He redeems sinful Man and makes us His own (1Jn 3:1), yet also feed in the majesty of His wrath as He tramples His enemies underfoot. (Is 63:3)

Rejoicing in all the attributes of God, glorying in everything about Him (2Co 10:17), is seeing Him as He is (1Jn 3:2), and not as we wish for Him to be. (Ro 1:23) This, and nothing less, is receiving Him, which is in itself the work of God. (Jn 1:12-13)

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God is Light

Light: electromagnetic radiation from our sun that’s constantly bouncing off the world around us and illuminating it. To perceive this we need special organs to translate the waves into images within our brains: eyes. Without the ability to see, we’d have very little awareness of light, and even less interest.

When God says He is light (1Jn 1:5), perhaps He’s telling us that He’s not only truth, but also the means by which we perceive it.

God defines reality, both in the physical and metaphysical. He is not only truth itself  (Jn 14:6), but also the ultimate standard by which everything has measure and is measured.

As each aspect of the spiritual dimension reflects the streaming revelation of God, its nature is revealed. In reacting to His Word, God exposes, illuminates, and reveals the spiritual detail of every sentient being (Is 8:20), and the color and texture of every moral choice we face, if only we have eyes to see. (Ps 119:105)

As C.S. Lewis said so well, let us believe in God as we believe the sun has risen, not only because we see it, but also because by it we see everything else.

Asking God to open our eyes is wanting to see the Light, to see Him in all things, and how all things relate to Him. It’s wanting to be aligned with, connected and engaged with Him. Once we can see, walking in the light with God is natural. (1Jn 1:7)

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God is Love

God is love, and those who know Him are like Him (1Jn 4:7-8); we love God, and our neighbors as ourselves (1Jn 3:14), even our enemies.

Love isn’t about liking everyone, or even anyone; it’s about seeking the welfare of others, wanting their ultimate good (Ro 13:10); it’s being longsuffering, benevolent, kind, unassuming, unselfish. (1Co 13:5)

This is the essence of the character of God: benevolent concern for others. He doesn’t need us to make Himself feel good; He is perfectly complete in and of Himself; we can add nothing to Him. Every aspect of His dealings with us is for our own good, not His. He isn’t trying to keep us from having fun, or bully us into following a set of arbitrary rules. God’s Law is the perfect expression of what it means to care. Everything God does is aligned with love, both for Himself and for His creatures.

What makes God’s love profound, in my opinion, is the magnitude of it, its depth and breadth and length and height. (Ep 3:17-18) This is known by who God loves, us, His enemies, desperately wicked people, and how He loves us, sacrificially, willing to suffer infinitely for us, to become our sin so that we might be made His righteousness (2Co 5:21), enter into His rest, and become part of His immediate family. (1Jn 3:1)

This is infinite love – only known against the backdrop of sin. Without God allowing sin, and without us knowing how holy He is, how much He hates sin, how He suffers by allowing sin, much less becoming sin for us, we can have no clue of His love, of His essential nature.

As God calls us to walk in His steps, to live as He does, we must know that God’s own love is the source of our love. (1Jn 4:19) As we begin to realize what He is like, and comprehend the depth of His concern for us, we can begin to care for Him and others in the same way, trusting Him to care for us (1Pe 5:7), and be filled with all His fullness. (Eph 3:19)

We can experience many different facets of love: romantic, brotherly affection, neighborly concern. In the end, what defines our own attitude as love or not is whether we genuinely have another’s best interest in mind, or whether we’re trying to use them to promote ourselves and make ourselves feel good. Perhaps there’s very little love in this world (1Jn 5:19); either way, it could always use a bit more.

As we grow in love, increasing and abounding yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment (Php 1:9), we begin to see that all our desires and affections, what we’ve been wanting for ourselves, can’t be satisfied in those we’ve been trying to use, but only in God Himself. Every craving, every longing … is a shadow to remind us to behold the beauty of God, to rejoice in Him as the ultimate fulfillment of all we could ever want.

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In Your Presence

Being in the presence of Almighty God is amazing, and we’re all continually in His presence (He 13:7); there is no place or time where God’s not fully present (Ps 139:7) or His glory hidden. (Is 6:3)

We’re instinctively aware of His presence: we know He hears us as we pray, any time, anywhere. So, if we aren’t enjoying God it isn’t because He’s far away, it’s that we’re ignorant (Ep 4:18) and blind(2Ki 6:17)

It’s impossible to be physically separated from God, to create any space between Him and anyone else. Anyone who desires the infinite God is invited to continually enjoy His glory (2Co 3:18), basking in His immediate presence and feeding in His majesty, in unbroken fellowship with Him. (Ps 16:11) The question isn’t, “Where is God?” but “Where are we.” (Ge 3:9) Do we want Him?

We may think we do, that we’d simply love for Him to reveal Himself to us … but if we aren’t already enjoying Him all the time, cleaving to Himdelighting in His Law and rejoicing in Him every hour of the day, when He’s right beside us, in and through us (Ac 17:28) … if we aren’t avidly internalizing the written revelation in which He’s already revealing Himself (Col 3:16), continually hiding it in our hearts so we won’t offend Him (Ps 119:11), and systematically meditating on it so we’ll know Him (Ps 119:99), it should be obvious that we’re not after God Himself.

I think what most of us are really after is an image we’ve constructed of God in our own minds, an idol in every sense: we’re making a god up as we wish him to be, like ourselves: aloof, uncaring, capricious, unjust, hard to reach and connect with. But God isn’t like that: He’s anything but that.

Let’s face it: the problem isn’t God … it’s us. The problem isn’t finding God, it’s wanting Him. Being with God isn’t an option; no one will ever be separated from God, not now, not ever, not even in Hell. What makes Hell unbearable isn’t the absence of God, but His holy, terrifying, indignant presence, as He unveils His infinitely holy nature to the desperately wicked, who genuinely hate and despise Him, which is, evidently, almost everyone. (Ro 3:11)

We can choose to seek God (He 11:6) until He transforms us into beings who enjoy Him, drinking Him into our innermost being, or we can continue trying to hide, lurking in make-believe shadows, hating the light (Jn 3:19-20), as we did in the Garden in our primal father, Adam. (Ge 3:8) Either way, we’re all going to spend eternity with Him, and He’s spending eternity with each and every one of us, right now.

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Rejoice in the Lord

YHWH. Jehovah God. The infinite, unchanging (Ja 1:17), omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator. Matchless in beauty, infinite in wisdom and understanding (Ps 147:5), unwavering in truth. (Tit 1:2) He cannot learn; He cannot risk in hope: He knows.

Orion Nebula, Hubble

He inhabits eternity (Is 57:15), ever present in all places at every moment of time (2Pe 3:8), both within and beyond time and space, knowing all, pervading all, all powerful.

He made the stars (Ge 1:16), arranging them in countless, gigantic, spectacular galaxies, and calls them all by name (Ps 147:4) as they each uniquely proclaim His glory (Ps 19:1), His exquisite, eternal, infinite majesty. (Ps 96:6)

He is infinitely sovereign, in absolute control of everything all the time. (Da 4:35) He always works everything according to His own will. (Ep 1:11)

He’s relational, in Himself a flawless divine community (Ge 1:26), in perfect delight and harmony within Himself (Jn 17:5), needing nothing and no one (Ps 50:12), welcoming every sentient being to come to Him and enjoy Himself. (Re 22:17)

He’s created each of us uniquely in His own image (Ge 1:27) to express some nuance of the divine nature, giving us meaning, purpose and intrinsic value, loving us unconditionally (Jn 3:16) and individually. (Jn 13:1) Though we’re all born at enmity with Him (Ep 2:1), He’s reaching out to every one of us in the mystery of the gospel to reconcile us to Himself, regardless what we’ve thought or done. (2Co 5:19)

He has revealed Himself though perfect Law (Ps 19:7), a living expression of His love and justice (He 4:12) in the context of human brokenness (Mt 22:37-40), revealing and exposing as corrupt all that is contrary to His nature. (Ro 8:7)

He has also revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, Himself the godhead incarnate. (Col 2:9) God Himself condescended to become one of His own creatures, one of us, to show us exactly what He’s like (Jn 14:9), willing to die for His enemies (Ro 5:10), enduring His own justice on our behalf, receiving us into His family and adopting us as His own (1Jn_3:1), if we would just be willing to receive Him. (Jn 1:12)

He’s perfectly just, no respecter of persons (Ac 10:34), and yet He’s infinitely merciful (Ps 103:17), benevolent and kind (Lk 6:35), even offering us the strength to obey Him if we’ll have it; He will never turn anyone away who’s diligently seeking Him (He 11:6), and will eternally terrify (2Co 5:11) all who won’t. (Mt 25:46)

He’s made many, many amazing promises (2Pe 1:4), and He’s never broken one. He’s perfectly faithful; He will never leave us nor forsake us. (He 13:5)

Regardless where I am, who I’m with, or what’s happening to me or around me, I can always rejoice in the eternal infinitude of God, beholding His beauty (Ps 27:4), feeding in His majesty, being delighted in, awed by and overcome with the perfection of His Way.

The almighty, eternal God repeatedly commands me to rejoice in Him, and to persist in this, always. (Php 4:4) He will have it no other way; He’s made me to exult in Him: enjoying God is the singular fuel of the human soul, joy unspeakable and full of glory. (1Pe 1:8)

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God Is Kind

God is good, benevolent and merciful to all (Ps 117:2), so it’s tempting to confuse answered prayer and temporal blessing with divine approval, thinking God’s kindness implies His validation. We may be like that, but not God.

God loves His enemies; He’s kind to the unthankful and to the evil (Lk 6:35), and often showers the wicked with earthly blessings and health. (Ps 73:3-7) In fact, God may often answer prayer that’s abominable to Himself. (Pr 28:9) There’s no strict correlation between God’s provision for us and His approval of us.

God knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust until the day of judgment to be punished. (2Pe 2:9) By afflicting the righteous He teaches us His ways (Psa_119:67 71), so it would seem that one way He reserves the wicked for judgement is by blessing them and giving them what they want in this life.

If God is answering the prayers of the wicked we shouldn’t be envious (Ps 37:1-2), nor find satisfaction in Him paving their way to destruction. (Pr 24:17-18) God takes no pleasure in the ruin of the lost (Ez 33:11); we should be weeping for them (Php 3:18-19), esteeming others better than ourselves.

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Inhabiting Eternity

YHWH is eternal, having neither beginning nor end (He 7:3): He inhabits eternity. (Is 7:15) He’s outside time and space, being ever present in every moment of time, and continually abiding beyond the boundaries of time. (Jn_8:58)

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Butterfly Nebula

It’s difficult to fathom the nothing elseness of only God, when there was nothing but God … no time, no space, no light or dark … just the self-existent eternal Being. The instant of the beginning, the great I AM Who never began … created space and time, Earth and Heaven. (Ge 1:1) If we can say “before” this instant, when there was no space or time, the triune God was, and only God.

And as YHWH is ever present in every moment of time, in every place with everyone, He is spending eternity with you, and with me, in this very instant. For an infinite past, and an infinite future, God is experiencing you, and me, in each moment of our existence. This experience never began in God, and it will never end in Him.

As YHWH is infinite in His existence, He’s also infinitely infinite in every facet of His being, as He infinitely occupies all of space and time. He is infinitely beautiful, infinitely majestic, infinitely holy, infinitely just, infinitely wise, infinitely merciful, infinitely loving. He is infinitely perfect in an infinite number of ways … the ultimate expression of infinitude.

How does one not worship a timeless Being! Sit back in awe at One so majestic, so mysterious, so altogether immense and powerful! How can we doubt His wisdom, goodness or faithfulness? Getting lost in the infinitude of God, let’s feed on His majesty, finding all that’s worth finding in the grandeur of the timeless One.

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Lord Knows

Back in the late 80’s Bo Knows ads featured my favorite athlete, Bo Jackson, whose seemingly superhuman feats awed both baseball and football fans for years: Bo could do anything.

But saying “Lord knows” (2Pe 2:9) seems like such an understatement … His understanding is infinite. (Ps 147:5)

YHWH is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient: infinitely present in all places at all times, infinitely powerful, infinite in knowledge and wisdom. (Is 40:28)  How can He try? or learn, or hope or grow? We can’t measure anything about Him. Saying He “knows how” suggests He developed a capability or acquired a challenging skill … an anthropomorphism that just won’t fly; He’s infinitely infinite.

God has always known everything about everything (Ac 15:18), so saying “the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished” (2Pe 2:9) is indeed stating the obvious. But it’s evidently an obviousness worth pondering.

God knows how … knows how to deliver the godly, those that are becoming more and more like Himself, out of temptations: He doesn’t spare us life’s trials and testings but forms us into His likeness through them. God knows how … and He does it with style. We count it all joy to be His workmanship (Ep 2:10), growing stronger under His loving hand and watchful eye through all our difficulties. (Ja 1:2-3)

But this omniscient, omnipotent God also knows how to reserve … to preserve, keep in store … the unjust, the biased, who judge inconsistently and selfishly … setting them aside unto the Day of judgment when He will expose all wickedness for what it is, and deliver them over to be punished. God knows how … and He’ll do it in righteous vengeance. (He 10:30-31)

God is goodGod is justGod is faithful: I rest in His perfect knowing, in His faithful timing, in His awesome, righteous power.

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