I am facilitating an adult Bible study class that is exploring the biblical material on “Hearing God.” We started by making a list of some of the ways God has spoken to his people. As Hebrews 1:1 points out, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways…” One of those ways is dreams and visions. We have spent the last two weeks exploring the role of dreams in the life of Joseph, the son of Israel (Genesis 37, 40 & 41).
We found that others may become jealous of dreamers. Joseph’s ten brothers heard the dreams about bowing before him from the context of Israel’s favoritism toward Rachel’s son. The idea that this brother with the brightly colored cloak would rule over them riled them and they plotted to kill him. Some people naively assume that knowledge of the future will be such a great blessing.
In chapter 40 Joseph is not the dreamer, but gets to be the interpreter. As we discovered God through the narrative of Joseph, the chief cupbearer and baker we arrived at a question raised by a counselor in the class, “Do you see God as setting up and arranging these events to get Joseph to accomplish his purposes, or do you see God as becoming involved in the free choices of the people involved, when needed to channel them to accomplish his purpose?”
Sounds like a great place to get lost in the Calvin/Arminius debate.
Not trying to be a smart-aleck, I left the class with a different question—“So what?” No, I did not raise this as a way of implying this is an irrelevant question. Thinking about God’s sovereignty and exploring the ways he accomplishes his purpose in the affairs of individuals, people groups and even nations is a very appropriate aspect of the Joseph, Israel and Egypt narrative. The way I want the class (and you) to grapple with the “So what?” question is much more personal. I am not too concerned with whether you come out nearer either of the aforementioned theologians. The point I want you to ponder is how does your understanding of God’s nature affect your daily walk?
“What do you learn about God from this passage?” is the most important question we can ask of a text, in my studied opinion. If we approach Scriptures like a new yearbook (“Where is my picture in here?”), rather than as the record of God’s self-revelation, we are misusing them. Is God the puppeteer who only creates the appearance that his puppets have a life of their own, or does he really call them to join him in what he is seeking to accomplish and grant them some level of freedom to accept/reject that call, and then adapt based on those choices to make sure his purpose comes to pass?
For some, their answer to “So what?” is they arrive at some level of fatalism. God controls everything so it is futile to will to do anything, including responding in obedience to any calling he has placed on our lives (intentionally overstated)! At the opposite extreme there is the potential that one assumes, “I must grab the wheel and steer this vehicle!—it is all up to me.”
Does my understanding of God lead to either extreme? Is there a better understanding? Where I come out on this matters. It impacts how I hear God. It does not alter his intended meaning, but it greatly shapes my hearing. Remember that Jesus calls those with ears to hear. Grasping God’s nature greatly impacts how we hear, thus how we respond.
What are you hearing from God? How are you responding?
You helped me once by answering this dichotomy of God’s sovereignty and our free-will. You told me that you couldn’t be an “either/or” guy but a “both/and” guy. I’m paraphrasing, but it helped me a lot, and I quote you a lot when I talk about this topic with friends.
For me, I want to look into the Hebrew for Joseph’s story. [60 seconds go by]. I looked up Genesis 50:20 up on a site that shows all (or most) of the English translations (http://bible.cc/genesis/50-20.htm), and it’s interesting:
Douay-Rhelms (who?) is the only translation that interprets the passage into an Armenian-esque meaning.
I’ve been wondering what the original word translated usually into “meant”, is. “God meant it for Good.” That doesn’t sound to me like He “turned it into good after you sinned.” It is curious.
Revelation 13:8 is also an interesting one. [http://bible.cc/revelation/13-8.htm]
Were we really all “written in” beforehand? Maybe, maybe not. I think it’s open for anyone who is wil, of course.
John Piper, probably the States’ most well-known “seven-point” Calvinist, offers the advice that if we can keep Jesus central, and the fact that His death wasn’t an accident but planned, and let everything else regarding our own suffering nearby, circling around that, we will be okay. Otherwise, a Calvinist can drive himself crazy thinking about “every little thing” being planned out…
Finally, as Christian who tends to agree with most or all of Calvinistic interpretations, I would like to say on behalf of anyone else who agrees with that theology, that the doctrines of Grace (by Calvinists) have often been grossly misunderstood and blown out of proportion. Saying things like “if everything is pre-planned, where is the need for prayer, preaching, and missions? What should we do anything at all?,” does not fit. We STILL have the REST of the BIBLE to believe in and obey! There is purpose to everything; we still have work to do, not for our salvation, but for the salvation(s) of the lost sheep. Part of His plan must be that we should do good deeds, love one another, teach, encourage, and find one another. Romans 10:14: http://bible.cc/romans/10-14.htm.
God bless this discussion and blog!
Clint, I am glad that our earlier conversation on this topic of predestination/freewill was helpful. You are correct that it is easier to react to the absurdities that I fear come from my opponent’s position, than to really listen to and understand what he/she is really saying. Calvinists call people to really hear the biblical material on God’s sovereignty and grace. Arminius’ personal understanding (unlike some of his followers) was orthodox in his teaching on these same issues–per my good theologian friend, John Mark Hicks.
The interesting thing about the history of missions is there were fellow Calvinists who told William Carey, “Sit down, young man, sit down and be still. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting either you or me.” This was the near-universal view of Protestant churches in the late 1700s. My main point in raising this issue will be a further discussion about obedience, which you address as well. Thanks for sharing!
One more thought tonight.
God knows everything, doesn’t he? I see you nodding. He surely knew Adam would fall. He might not have planned it, but he “okay’d” it. That’s not bad. As I see it, he must have also thought it good to create creatures who, yes, make decisions and play a role in story, having some flux in how it can go. It will never get out of hand for God.
If He knew we’d fall, He knew we’d need a Savior: praise Jesus Christ!
However, he also knew that some would reject His offer. So it is.
Now, to use the term “election.” Does God still have an “elect” after Israel? Yes, but are the predetermined? Isn’t that a tough question? Say He did. If a listener is offended by a Calvinist-preachers proposition or proclamation of that, it is actually possible that that is an indication that he or she IS elect (if that predestined-sort exists). Why? Is not the unforgivable sin that of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Does that mean rejection of it, and God’s promises? Yes. Whether a listener is saved or unsaved, if he or she is made nervous by the idea of an predestined elect, I think there is good reason to believe that he or she is already part of it (or on his or her way to staking that claim of being a part of it!).
Food for thought.
Forgive my typing; my time online is always limited to being in the library. Also, if I’ve gotten so far off topic, I hope you’ll pardon it and be blessed in the meantime by it.
We just so happen to be discussing Jonathan Edwards in my American Literature class tomorrow.
I hope your professor sets Edwards’ writing in its proper context. Some of his material is quite jarring for post-modern audiences. It is fascinating that Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” continues to be discussed in American Literature classes as representative of The Great Awakening period.
So what . . . good question. Jacob did what he knew to do, some of it foolish imo — I wouldn’t tell a dream like that (I hope) — but he was very young, and God used it all for good. He was faithful wherever he went. Of course you could argue that Jacob was faithful because God had ordained that he would be. Nevertheless, in Jacob’s pov, he chose to be faithful and he could conceivably have chosen otherwise. Perhaps God chose him because He knew Jacob WOULD be faithful . . . this could get very convoluted.
In the end, though, what I choose does matter, whether God chose to see it beforehand or not. Personally I’m more or less of the persuasion that when He created me, He knew full well everything I would do because He knew me from before the foundation of the world. I see plenty of reasons in scripture to be both Calvinistic and Arminian. Maybe God meant EVERYTHING He said and there is a way for both the predestination and the free choice passages to be right. Everyone/everything in their time.
I’m still very excited about the Discovery bible studies, btw. I’ve recently started a personal study on Romans and I’ve only gotten through the first two chapters — but every passage leaves me saying “Wow!” It’s not exactly that I’ve never seen it that way before (so far), but more like I’ve never SEEN it that way before, if you know what I mean. The difference between intellectual and spiritual understanding, perhaps.
Thanks so much for introducing me to this!
Cindy, I am glad that you are finding Discovery Bible Studies valuable. Hearing the Word afresh, especially in a group, gives great opportunities for “Aha!” moments. Exploring God’s choices and his nature that lies behind them brings new depth to our understanding and a fresh passion to our walk. It is amazing that his end-goal is to transform us into the image of Christ, who is the exact representation of the Father. Coming to know him is of great value for our lives!
I hope to hear more about your journey through Romans. Blessings.
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