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Discusses the essential relationship between the Creator and his people
Course: Old Testament Theology
Lecture: The Doctrine of Creation
I'd like to begin at Isaiah 43 today. Isaiah 43. And yesterday we had been talking about creation and God's person in genesis 1 and 2, and in Isaiah 40-48 I would just use the category of creation and God's people, because God has been speaking to them through Isaiah, through creation theology to bring comfort and strength and hope and admonition really, to his people, and we have been noting through chapter 40, and all this was rather kinda rapid at the end, but if nothing else we could say in Isaiah 40, that God is powerful, he is the creator and can do all things, and in comparison to him the nations are but a drop in the bucket, they're dust on the scales in comparison to God. That's what this is, a comparison. Not "Well God can't stand the nations, doesn’t think anything about the nations," but in comparison to God, the nations are as dust on the scales, and the only people I ever really noted who are concerned about the weight of dust on the scales are people very concerned about their weight. The only time I've ever seen anyone sweep dust off the scale was when I saw high school wrestlers trying to make weight.
It just doesn’t amount to much in comparison to God. The text says that from where God sits, in throne in the heavens, everything down here looks like grasshoppers. You know, the people are just small in comparison to God. It's like if you have ever been to Chicago and gone up the Sears tower, the fast elevator in it. And you get up there and the thing's swaying a little bit, and the breeze. And you say "Why is the thing moving? Why is the floor..." Well, they say if it didn't do that, it would snap off in the wind. We'd rather not have that happen. And you look down and city buses, little bitty things going through there. In comparison to God and where he sits, this is how small things are. So God's power. As creator he is powerful, and the text says he has sustained
Israel all these years. Whether it was the exodus, or whether it was while they were in trouble, or in the bringing them out of bondage, God has sustained the people he created and called. And he is as the creator, the comforter who can comfort more than the one who has made them. Also I think you have a strong sense that the creator is honest here. He is honest about their sins and the cost these sins have incurred. He is also honest that the faithful are currently suffering. You don’t find God saying in the bible "Oh, you know, things aren’t that bad. Things could always get worse." That's always, that’s a strong biblical phrase, isn't it? Hey, things could always get worse, or lots of people have suffered worse than you have. Now on occasion, as in Hebrews, the writer said you have not yet struggled against saying to the point of shedding of blood. They haven’t put you to death yet, so there is some of that, but the point is God says yes, you are suffering. Yes, you are hurting. Yes, you have gone through deep waters, even though I've been with you. Yes, you have gone through the fire. Yes, I have refined you. So there is a stance in which the honesty of God is certainly palpable in chapter 41. And we had at least gone to chapter 43, and in 43-1 we had found that he is the creator of Israel. That is a little bit different than saying God has created all persons everywhere. God created Israel to be a people for himself. A holy nation, a kingdom of priests, witness to the nations. Why did God do this? Well, back before, in Deuteronomy 7, God says it was not because you were stronger, more numerous or righteous, but you were small and week and hard hearted, and still necked.
What is the answer then? Because I loved you. And because he had made promises to his friend, Abraham. But if election means anything, it means there is no merit in the person elected in this case, or I think in any other case. No overwhelming merit. So God has created Israel. Verse 2 then, because he created them he will redeem them. And in verses 1 through 7, for what purpose? For his glory. Verse 7: "Everyone who is called by my name and whom I created for my own glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made." And it is, I think it's John Piper who makes a point. You know, it's very interesting about God. God, because he is the creator and because he is good, and because he is the redeemer, he is the one person that it can be said truthfully, it is best that for everyone, that he be glorified. He be made great. He be the one that people bow down to. And so he's also the only person for whom it is not a sin to say "What is best for all, is for me to be glorified." If we don’t understand the true nature of God, it just sounds like the worst sort of egomania.
Well let's unpackage just for a moment. Remember, for me to say what's best for all of you is for me to be glorified, for everyone to know... Well, we know that's not true because I can't save you. I haven’t made you, I can't answer your prayers. I can't take care of you, I can't sustain you even on my best days with my best efforts. But it is true of God. For him to say for me to be glorified, for my glory to be most important is what is best for what is best for all of us. It's often true of God that what is true of him cannot be said of human beings, and this is just another case. So he has created human beings for his glory. He has worked and created Israel for his glory. He will redeem Israel for his glory. Why? As Isaiah 48 goes on, so that all nations might see his glory.
Isaiah has a strong multi-national concern. So we see these aspects so far, and as we go on to 43-8 and following, God says "Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes and the deaf, even though they have ears." Already, God has called Israel a blind servant in 41-8. A blind servant that can't see and is stumbling about. All the nations have gathered together, so the people may be assembled. Who among them can declare this and proclaim to us the former things? Here's an interesting point it's going to make about God. God knows the past. God knows everything about the past. Now that, I hadn't really thought about that because I used to think well that's no big deal. Anybody can know the past. Then I began to realize, oh, can we? We can't collect all of the past. We couldn’t write a full orbed history of everything. We couldn’t even collect the data. So when we think about God's omniscience, the time honored term for God being all knowing, we have to start to say it's no small trick to know the entire past. Or it's no small trick to know the current present, to know everything now. So who can proclaim to us the former things? "Let them present their witnesses, that they may be justified, or that they might be declared correct. We'll let them hear and say it is true. You are my witnesses, declares the lord, and my servant whom I have chosen so that you may know and believe me, and understand that I am he." It's the same for several times in Isaiah 40-48 that you get the same language for God as you got for exodus 3-14. I am, or I am he. "Before me there was no God formed, and there will be none after me.
The creator is the only God. I am, and I am the lord and there's no savior beside me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed." And in this context as we're going to see, declared means the past. Saved also could be the past, present but proclaimed is going to come to mean in this text the future. God proclaims the future. "And there was no strange God among you, so you're my witnesses and I am God. Even from eternity, I am he." The creator has no beginning point here or in Sam 90 or in Genesis 1 and 2. "From eternity I am he" is the statement here. In genesis 1-2, you know, in the beginning, God. In Sam 90, 1 and 2 the text says "Before the mountains, wherever brought forth are you made them. From everlasting to everlasting you are God." And of course, philosophers get into an important and detailed discussion about God and time. I can only say as far as the biblical record goes, there is no way in which time defines God. He is not bound by it. He enters into it, and he enters into human history but he is not bound by it.
God knows what time it is, but he's not pressed. This is the interesting thing throughout the scriptures. There's a sense at which there's a personal ease about God that comes from having all the time there is to have. Frustrates me a bit, and the Israelites at times seem to forget that even though God has made promises to his chosen people and that they cannot be revoked, they do not have to be the recipients. That generation of them. God will be around when they are gone. So he is the eternal one. "There is none who can deliver out of my hand." I act, and who can reverse it? How do you undo what the creator does? Then in 43-14, "Thus says the lord, your redeemer, the holy one of Israel. For your sake I have sent to Babylon and will bring them all down as fugitives.
Even the Chaldeans, into the ships in which they rejoice." God is saying that in the future, something is going to happen in the future. He's already set it in motion, but he's going to punish Babylon. Now again, yesterday, and this will kind of begin the discussion because a couple of you asked me about openness in God theology, and Josh put me onto Gerald Bray's old book, The Personal God, which deals with some of the issues. 13 dollars, you gotta love British. Publisher is Paternoster. Give me 76 pages of Bray for 13 dollars. Well worth it, probably, but I've been working on that. Also, on openness of God theology, a response to Bruce Ware's God's Lesser Glory is the title of it. But, the question is, does God know future events that are contingent? Contingent upon human action, human decision, that sort of thing. Well, if God for instance is going to bring down Babylonians as fugitives. Let's pick a number of Babylonians. Let's say it's 2000 Babylonians he's talking about, just for argument's sake. How many people's future is affected by that? [14:00] For these 2000 Babylonians to go as fugitives. How many specific future contingent events must be known and accounted for beforehand? I have no idea. Let's say each one affects four people. So my point, I think one thing that's not taken into account often enough by openness.
I will say some things about the openness, that as we go with it that I think they have some legitimate, some serious legitimate questions. But for God not to know future contingent events basically makes it impossible for him to say something will specifically be done in the future, because if you make a future, I mean just as simplistic as it could possibly be. If God had determined ahead of time, and again, openness people say God did determine some things ahead of time. It was determined ahead of time that I would be here. That has affected all of you. and I suppose some time, somewhere, either last night or in these two weeks somebody will say "I can't do that, I have to read for this class that house assigned." And depends on your personal theology, but you know when I agreed to do this class, it was very convenient to do so. Not just to accept, but to come. But by the time it was time to come, I had decided to take a new job.
We had to move and set up household best we could in order then, having finished that task on Friday, to come here on Saturday. And because at some point in time I had decided to take on a dog 3 years ago for my daughter whom I thought would be at home all this time but has instead gone to college early, leaving me with her dog, we could not fly because of the dog. Because a pug is a specialty dog. They were bred to be lap dogs for Chinese emperors, and bred to look as much like very sad people as possible, so they have no nose. And dogs use their nasal capacity to do things like cool off, and the thing is air pressure can kill him. So could, I mean, he just can't be out in this weather very long, or very cold weather. It's not his fault, this is the way he has been made.
There you go, so we're driving the 700 miles. And we're doing it today, and again, how many people are affected? Suddenly our friend says "Could you please stop at Louisville and visit?" They got in the act. I'm just saying, how many future contingent events must someone know to put you at point A or B at any point in time? Way too many. It's not a simple fact of saying "Well all you had to do was say Jesus will be born in Bethlehem." That doesn’t entail many future events. Or that there are going to be Babylonian fugitives. That’s just a prediction requires, is my point for the hundredth time today. It requires extensive planning, not unlike... I have been reading Ambrose's biography of Eisenhower. You read about the D-day invasion, and there had to be so much planning to try to get the people on the beach, and the real planning took place once they had a beachhead. Because they were going to turn that thing into the port of entry for every armament that went into Europe. So understanding to just say that God knows any part of the future is going to make the necessity of knowing, if not the whole future, virtually the whole. So the text goes on to say, having said about the Chaldeans, verse 15 "I am the lord, your holy one, the creator of Israel, your king. Thus says the lord who makes a way through the sea and a path through the mighty waters."
Again, exodus imagery. "Who brings forth a chariot and a horse, the army and the mighty man." He says in verse 18 "Do not call to mind the former thing, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert." He talks about in verse 20 that he's going to get waters in the desert. Verse 21, "The people whom I formed for myself will declare my praise." He's going to effect what amounts to a new exodus for the exiled. Now if we go on, it's hard to leave anything out in Isaiah because it's such an intricate, there are several themes that have been intricately woven through here. But you go to 44-6. "Thus says the lord, the king of Israel and his redeemer, the lord of hosts." It'll be interesting just to get all the names for God here.
He's the king of Israel, the redeemer, he's the savior, he's the creator. "I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides me." A fairly stout monotheistic statement. "Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Yes, let him recount it to me in order. From the time that I established the ancient nation, let him declare to me the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place." One of his proofs to a discouraged people that he is God is the fact that he knows the things that are coming, the events that are going to take place. "Do not tremble and do not be afraid," Now this is interesting. God's omniscience as our creator, savior, redeemer should be a meaning of comfort to us. If he is our savior and redeemer, we have the opportunity not to tremble and not be afraid.
"Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me, or is there any rock? I know of none." So again, part of the proof that he is God is the ability to know the future. Now, the famous satire in 44-9 to 20, he says okay, now this is who I am, let me tell you what an idol he is. It is really satire, it doesn’t take into account that some people might have thought an idol was a representation of a God, not the God itself. But it basically says, you know, an individual seemingly doesn’t think about the following. He chops up wood for the day, he burns some of it in the fire, he makes... He warms himself, takes some of the same wood, makes himself a God and bows down to it. And doesn't seem to think "Well, I made it. I made this God." So that what idolatry amounts to is what Bruggeman said was dangerous. It is the reversal of the creator creates creation. And that we worship the creator. What has happened is the creation has created its own God and worshiped it. So he says, now, this idol if you hold it up, it can't answer prayer, it can't feel, it can't do anything. And remember you made it. So in the rest of chapter 44, God reminds him that he has forgiven him, and will give joy, and then in 44-28 and 45-1, the promises that Cyrus will be subduing nations and setting Israel free. Now as I said, this is quite an impressive promise if, as I think, it's an 18th century prophecy. But even if it is a 6th century prophecy, I remember my Isaiah teacher in seminary saying well, you know, he believed in second Isaiah and he said, well, he said some people accuse us who believe in second Isaiah of not believing in predictive prophecies. It's not true, he says five years prior to Cyrus the priest is able to predict accurately what Cyrus is going to do.
He said that's not bad, because there's so much that could happen in the interim. Well, I took his point. If this is, I think it's an older prophecy but even if it's only a 5 year prior prophecy, give that a shot sometime. Cyrus will subdue nations and he will, and here was the funny one, set Israel free. This is saying he must have a conquest policy that would allow for such a possibility. And so this is what happens. 539 B.C., Cyrus defeats Babylon. 538, he offers a decree that says to the Jews... It's not just to the Jews, it's his conquest policy: Go home. In 539 he's a victor, 538 he says to Israel you're allowed to go back, and with a government grant reconstruct your temple. Because of course the Assyrians ruled through sheer terror, the Babylonians pretty much the same, but the Persians said "you know, we're not going to get much tax money for our empire with all these little devastated, torn up kingdoms.
Look, we need to send these people back. They're nationalistic, they want their homeland. Let them rebuild their land, as long as they pay taxes we're happy. Let's set up a flourishing empire." And so regardless of the viewpoint, it lets you just believe there is no such thing as predictive prophecy, which some folks holding the argument would have no weight at all. But he then goes on in verse 6, speaking to Cyrus back in verse 5 "I will gird you, though you have not known me, that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun, there's no one beside me. I am the lord, there is no other." God's work with Cyrus was to show that he's the only God. And what, verse 7, back to the creation theology. "The one forming light and creating darkness. Causing wellbeing and creating calamity, I am the lord who does all these things."
It's an interesting verse in Hebrew, it's lots of creation imagery. The word for forming light is the same word that's used for forming the human being, you know, out of the dust in genesis 2. Creating dark, that's the Bara, that's the God word for creation. Making shalom, peace or wholeness. It's the word for, you know, God making things all saw, and creating. And here is an important word, Rah. Some translations will always translate rah evil. So that you have a variety of translations, have God doing evil in English translation. Well, the problem with that is the word Rah is a generic word. I forget how many hundreds of times it's used in the Old Testament, but it's used from everything for a person to food. So it is a word that in my opinion has to be interpreted contextually, and it is often translated by all translations as calamity or disaster. In the older translations, way back to Tyndale in English, the 1500s, whenever they would translate evil, they either would make a note that it's in a generic sense, or that this was an anthropomorphism. That is a human trait attributed to God. I think it's simpler than that. You have a generic word for everything that's bad. From a bad event, to bad food to whatever. The bible is very clear that there are times when God sends natural disasters, calamities, right? You remember the exodus. God was sending those things as a punishment. Read the book of Amos. There are times when God has sent a famine for instance as a punishment.
The bible does not say every famine is a punishment, does not say that every disaster is a punishment, it just says it's possible that that's what God has done. We are not always let in, it's not always revealed to us when it is such. So God is creating wholeness, wellbeing, creating calamity, "I do all these things." This is his power, and about now just as the Apostle Paul anticipated in Romans 9 through 11, see verse 9: "Woe to the one who quarrels with his maker." Because you're about to say, wait a minute. What do we make of this? How do we know when it's good, how do we know when it's a calamity, how do we know when it's a punishment? And it is often that we are left with a mystery, a lack of knowledge which I call mystery.
Don’t quarrel with your maker, in the sense that you're only an earthenware vessel. Will the clay say to the potter "What are you doing?" Or the thing that you're making say "Hey!" He has no hands. Woe to him who says to his father "What are you begetting?" Or to a woman "To what are you giving birth?" They have this kinda notion of a baby in a womb pounding on the side "Hey wait a minute!" So God continues, says the proper response before God apparently is God has revealed so much to us that it needs to be enough for us to trust him. There are secret things that belong to God according to Deuteronomy 29-29, is it? "The revealed things belong to us, the secret things belong to God, but God has revealed so much." And this also by the way is sort of how the book of Job ends. God personally responds to Job, explains to him that he is the creator, explains to him how detailed his knowledge has to be, and all he has to account for, and that Job has no idea how to do all this.
He's seen things only from one perspective, and that what God has revealed needs to be enough for Job to trust God. But let's be clear, and we're talking a little bit about this after class, that's a faith decision you must make, right? God does not leave us in the dark about everything. He has revealed himself in a variety of ways at a variety of times, and about a variety of things. It's as if God is saying, look, if you're worried about your situation, look at all that has been revealed. Look at the truth that is there, look at the greater picture, put yourself within that picture, but that is a faith commitment that one makes. Because the bible does not promise to explain the why of every situation. The details of the why. We know that the big picture is what I've described and what God is describing here, and as best as... We're going to look at this on the last day of class, but it's best described in Genesis 50, verses 19 and 20. Remember Genies 50, 19 and 20 where Joseph is talking to his brothers, and they just assume that as long as their father is alive he wouldn’t take revenge out of respect for their father. So when he's dead, they concoct a story that he said "Let us live. Our father said let us live." Joseph says "You made it for evil, but God made it for good." He has said as early as chapter 45, "I've been sent ahead to preserve light." He realizes why this has occurred. Or you have the New Testament equivalent of Genesis 50 in Romans 8-28: "All things work together for the good, for those who love God. For those who are the called according to his purpose."
And in the bible, we are given many examples of how this was true in the past. That was true for Joseph. That was true for Israel and their suffering period in the exodus. This was true for Ruth and Naomi. This was true for... And you can just fill in the blanks. This was true for the Apostle Paul, this was true for Jeremiah. But it still requires this faith statement to the... From us to the creator. And sometimes this faith is hard earned. Let's not kid ourselves. You can suffer in a way that will make the best people wonder what's going on. Does it mean that we're justified in sinning against God in any sort of way? But remember, in 45 9 through 10, it is required for us to believe, and the same God who in verse 11 chapter 45 says "I have told the future and the past, I made the heaven and the earth in the past, I have stretched out the heavens in the past." He is predicting the future.
God knows the future. Now again, there is enough revealed to us that it is not counter-intuitive. It is not counter to our reason. When I say it requires a faith statement, I used to hear growing up all the time, you know, [inaudible] Faith is a leap in the dark. Just a leap in the dark. And they use all kinds of illustrations, like "It's like when you throw your kid in the swimming pool the first time. They just have to trust you that you'll fish them out." I'm thinking, sheesh, is that the only way we can learn swimming? Or you know, there's some illustration I get. So I finally realize, I decide faith is a shot in the dark, is a leap in the dark if leaping into the arms of the one who created, sustained, redeemed, carried, revealed, predicts, well then that's a leap in the dark.
The longer you go on in Christian life, the more you may say, well, leaping toward God is the only rational thing I've done. The rest of it has been a mess. But again, I want to stress that this is the biblical perspective about belief, because otherwise we can just stat swapping stories. "Well I've suffered this, well I've suffered that. Well I suffered this and believed in God, but I suffered this, and because of it quit believing in God." We need to remember that the text is put before us for such times as the horrible suffering. And it is at that time that we remember what God has done in the past, what God has promised to do in the future, what God said in his word. And at that moment it's the faith commitment, and that's what Isaiah was asking him to do. Believe in the creator. So he continues on with his statements about the future, and one of the final ones, verse 23 of chapter 45 "I've sworn by myself, the word has gone forth from my mouth and righteous will not turn back. To me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. Let us speak of the future." And if you really want to see, well, we'll see it in a moment. If you really want to see the future, it's in Isaiah 65 where God renews the heavens and the earth, and has his people with him forever. So God, as a creator sustains. He is the only God, he will redeem, he will forgive, he will send Cyrus, he calls him out as a faith commitment. In other words, he rules the past, present and future. This is the creator God. And I would urge you that when you're trying to instill comfort in people by teaching or preaching about comfort ahead of time, which we need to do, they talk a lot now about wholeness. Whole health and lifelong health.
They want you to exercise your heart now so they'll be doing less open heart surgery later. When they're about to put us on the respirator and give us the shock treatment to our heart to keep us alive, it's a tad late to talk to us about walking, jogging, exercising, whatever else. I talked to my daughter last night, and she was glad to hear that I was getting some more aerobic exercise, because you know, she's worried about my heart. And I was getting more exercise because she's always reminding me "You know you have to walk into the best nursing homes. You gotta be able to walk in there and feed yourself." She's concerned that I keep my legs under me, but if you're going to administer, help people and comfort people, you need to lay a foundation in your preaching and teaching.
Not just wait until somebody is at a funeral home, looking at a loved one that's died tragically and her whole world is kind of... Or not just wait until somebody's business fails to tell them the lord is with them. So one of the things you can do is lay a foundation from some of these chapters based on creation theology. And what Isaiah spins out of the creation theology. I think it would be helpful to people, but remember you'll call from them a reasoned faith response. By that I mean there's all sorts of evidence in this text that God is faithful and dependable, but it still remains a faith commitment. So I find Isaiah to deal very strongly with God's people, their need for comfort, their need for a creator, their need to understand there's only one God. I think it deals with contemporary issues such as the openness of God or even helping us construct a solid theology of who the lord is, but you have allowed me to ramble on. What sort of question or comments are you wanting to work through?
Audience: A problem with [inaudible]
The issue is, as the openness for God, people see it, yes. Here are some of the issues. Issue number one, in the order at which they come to my mind, not necessarily in the order of importance. But issue number one is, is it true that if God knows, that means he causes? The traditional, depending on which Calvinist you talk to, see, this is... There isn't a one for one, but depending on which Calvinist you talk to, some of them have said yes, that’s exactly what it means. The fact that God knows means that God caused. Others have said no, God has human beings be responsible, but the fact that he has elected some to salvation does not mean that their responsibility has been taken away, or that everything has been caused. It depends. So that's one. The traditional [phonetic] Western Arminian response has been "God knows everything, the beginning from the end, but he sees it from eternity." It's almost like God... They don't say this, but to me it's like God has eternity up here on a shelf, he knows it all and it's all very clear to him, but the fact that he knows it does not mean he's causing it. That's been the human freedom. That God knew as the creator what would happen once this thing started. He knew it all, the end from the beginning, but he does not cause you simply because he knows it, any more than I could know what you're going to do and can't stop it, and be terrible but I would know where you're going.
That’s been the traditional answer. Now what is interesting, most of the openness of God people are more Arminian than Wesleyan. But oddly enough, they agree with the Calvinists who say "To know is to cause." It's an interesting hybrid theology. When you try to use useful categories to bring to bear, to understand where they're coming from, that’s where it mixes. So they think if God causes it, you're not totally free. Second question then, does prayer matter? Gerald Bray picks up on this when he says, you know, that's one other question. Does it make any difference at all? Does your prayer change anything, or are you only getting in touch with that which God wants to do anyway? Or more so what God will do anyway.
Now, I've wondered for years regarding this discussion. I have to confess that prayer baffles me. It does not baffle me the way biology does, but it baffles me nonetheless. But when you go back to the biblical record and you look at the biblical prayers, I can honestly say that some of the notions I grew up with, having heard that, you know, if we'll pray, God will do something that God wouldn’t do anyway. In my view that’s a pretty thin thread in the scriptures. Doesn’t mean that it isn't important, but I can just say that most prayers are asking God to change. You know, praise and lament. It's either thanking God for who he is, glorifying God for who he is, putting your trust in him as a creator and sustainer, or it's saying "I know you're a creator and sustainer, but currently life stinks.
Change this, and I know you will change it the way you have changed it in the past." So again, it's back to faith. A lament is a faith statement that the God who loves me is the God who has brought me these circumstances, and is the one who will bring me out of them. But it's fairly rare that... I mean for instance it doesn’t mean we shouldn't pray for the lost, what I'm about to say, but a friend of mine called me once and he was preaching a series on prayer or evangelism, I can't remember, and he says "Can you think of a single example where anybody in the bible prayed for the lost?" I couldn’t think of one. I still can't. Does that mean that we shouldn't pray for the lost? No, but I'm just saying once you start looking at prayer, the first question I had to ask, "Is prayer what I thought it was?" I mean it's a fair question, but the openness of God people say "Does prayer really make any difference, or are you just connecting with..." an accord without limiting the importance of you connecting with God's will and things. So that's what they're asking. And they're also asking what about some other passages? And I think we'll deal with them in due time, which it seems that God has changed his mind. Now we have to say there are only four or five of these, first of all. So an ongoing hermeneutical principle that the openness of God people being Wesleyan Arminians, most of them employ all the time on other doctrines, which is we take the problem passages, and lay them up against the preponderance of passages. Right? I mean, a Calvinist would argue that they do that every time they come to the doctrine of election, or whatever. It's just a principle.
So I have to say, I think isn't even the phrase "And God changed his mind" is an interpretation of a very hard Hebrew word. Now I can talk about that later, but it by no means is straight forward translation, word-for-word. That there's a word for "God changed his mind." It's one Hebrew word, Naham, from the rarest of the seven stems. And it's reflexive to boot, so whatever was going on was going on within God. We could just say, well, it could be changed because that goes on with this. Yes, but saying, on the passages where it says God repented, you know the old King James. He started learning a little bit of Hebrew, he figured the verb Shuv, which is the word used, you know, who knows, 700-800 times for repent.
That’s got to be what it is! It's not. We're back to our old friend Naham, the word for repent that's used for humans repenting is not there. But it would be a logical English bible reading mistake to make, you'd think. What else? So at some point in time you have to say, okay, they're asking some questions about some problem passages. And fourth issue they're raising is, is a pastoral one. Don't we have to comfort people in their struggles, and does it comfort them to say, and here's the caricature, though I've heard it. "It was just God's will." So that... And you always start with your most tragic. You don’t start with normal life, we start with the most tragic, and to me it was this little boy in Hartford City, Indiana.
9-10 years old, seemed to have beat leukemia at 10, and at 11 was killed in an accident with another kid playing with a gun. Well of course it moved the community. It was... And so you say, well, so somebody just say, probably said to the people "Well you know, it's just God's will." What's amazing to some who use this as a negative example, it satisfies all sorts of people. "Well if it was God's will, I can live with it, because I know and trust God, but anything else would just be terrible." But they ask a pastoral question. But you have to ask yourself, is telling people that there was nothing God could do, or that God wasn’t able to do that at that time, is that a strong, comforting statement either? So we're already getting into the fifth issue, which is, is it as important to try to account for evil and suffering in the world? This is what they're trying to deal with. So in effect, they're trying to answer a mystery. They're trying to answer the issue of evil and suffering, and of prayer, which are two of the greatest mysteries the bible gives as to how the work and why they work the way they do.
Audience: Is it that passages like this, and what we did in Job, some of the [inaudible].
I agree. Bray talks about the mystery side of it, and that’s important. What I have to say is the more I read Job 38-41, it's where God comes, gives the all the answers God's going to give, in book of Job. Though it does not satisfy all sorts of commentators, it satisfies Job. I found that fascinating. Satisfies the guy that was affected the most. Now what it seems to say is "If you take all that I have revealed about how I run the world, you would know enough to be able to trust me for the part you don’t know about." That seems to be the decision we have before us. In Job, and here. Of course, in the Old Testament and in the new, the resurrection seems to make a great deal of difference too, and the final judgment.
And the Old Testament says if you're worried about the wicked, let me promise you they are going to be judged. But then the question is asked in the Old Testament and the New Testament, how long? And then we get to the point of we don't like the timing of it. Even when we're willing to trust God, often, we don’t like the timing of it. We did not like the timing of our mother's death. I was old enough, but there were two teenage daughters in the home. We thought it would be good if she'd remained. We didn't like the timing. Now, were we silly enough to think there would never come a day when our mother would die? No, my daughter and I talked about this serious fact, that one of us, barring a freak accident, one of us is going to bury the other.
That conversation needs to be had. Because I don’t want my death, which is probably going to be fist, I don’t want that to so floor her that she would see it as unnatural. It's not unnatural. The soul and its sins will die. I am on the way of deteriorating as we speak, and it's going to happen. And our family, we have three generations of cancer now. The same cancer, about the same age, so we have some idea. If we beat that, we have a chance to live a very long time. That’s the way our genetic code runs. One of us will bury the other, so let's not be hard about it, but the timing is what... It just... I know that I could bury my daughter, but the fact of that really is tough, tough, tough for me to handle, and any timing is unsatisfactory to me.
Now something people see a loved one suffer and struggle and suffer and struggle, so they’ll finally say something like a good friend to our family is recently did. The wife said "I'm ready to let him go." She began to sense that he struggled so hard for life, because she wanted him to. Oh, and he'd manage to live an extra 7-8 years, probably. I mean, how long can a guy live on dialysis and this and that and the other, and look 20 years older than he was and just say "I'm still here." But it usually takes something like that. We don’t like the timing of it. How long, oh lord, is a reasonable question. But it's not one that God is going to answer, usually. Why do I think this? Because God is the creator and the sustainer us all. And when I die, it could have some effect on others. See, this is God takes all this into account. I'm not given a timing, there are other things I'm not given, but it required a faith statement that what I know about God is enough to sustain me. And there comes a time where you almost have to say, if we're in line with what Isaiah says here about faith, say okay, what if I found out that a straight Calvinist or a straight Arminian were right about God? I would be required to have faith in him, right? If you're a monotheist, what is your other option? There's one God. You have to deal with this one God. And Job early on said "I don’t like the sound of that, because right now it looks to me like this one God is judge, jury and executioner and he ain't always just."
But he said "I'm going to deal with this God. I'm going to struggle with my faith, with a way to deal effectively with this God. And he says "Even if he kills me, I'll believe in him." That’s Job's faith. But to me, the openness of God people have brought up good issues. We need to deal pastorally, and not glibly if we've been doing so with pain, and with people's suffering. We must deal seriously with what prayer does and doesn’t do in our churches. We must do that. I don’t think they have the right answer, but I do believe that that’s a legitimate concern, and that we must deal with problem passages of the bible. I think it's correct. And they’ve asked, if we say God doesn’t change, what does that mean?
Because some language I've heard about God makes it sound like a great big rock in the field, that you can't move. And so if, in English, a phrase like "Never changes," does it mean what it used to mean? Then we need to find terms that do communicate the same truth to people. Because if you say to the average person "You better say God never changes because he doesn’t need to change." We're saying after class, if James is honest, do we want him to change? We don’t, really. Do we? If George is kind, do we want George to change? Would we like that? No. Said "Oh, if it were Oggy." If Chuck has a good reputation. I talked to a freshman last night, she said "Chuck is a nice guy." She forgot his name, but she described him. She said yes, he's a nice guy.
Do we want that to change? Of course not. So let's just say collectively, if somebody was a whole perfect personality, we wouldn’t want them to change, but we would say we need to take into account what it means to be a whole, perfect personality first. Not have some view of God way out there, "He'll save you but he's a hardcore case." And the psychologists are right, a lot of us get our view of God out of the first authority figure we can remember. Then yeah, you'd want that to change. And when you say "Never change," it makes it sound like unaffected. Never grieves, never happy, never praise. Sure, you'd want that to change.
That’s not an effective way to describe God to people. You describe God as one who doesn't need to change, because inherently perfect, inherently compassionate, inherently tough enough, inherently whatever. And you say, look, you wouldn’t want that God to change, would you? What do you want him to change into? If he's perfectly good, all they can change into is worse. We don’t even want a bad person to get worse. So I'm just saying we... I think Bray's approach to saying if, basically if you know the personal God, will that be a satisfactory God, and then a God that you don’t want to change? The answer I think would be yes. But remember, pastorally, if someone has had foisted upon them or they’ve on their own got a negative view of God, then you need to help them understand the truth about God before you tell them he doesn’t change. They think God's mean and you tell them he doesn't change, that’s not a great comfort. We just had fathers' day, surely for a long time we realized that simply using the word father, unexplained, is not a comforting word thereby in a room.
I want to encourage, before you preach one of these idolatrous mother's day sermons too, remember the same is true for some people there. Mine started a mother's day sermon a few years ago with the notion that mothers are sinners. Like everybody else. Oh yes, he, you know, he got flayed. People got so mad. On a mother's day, how in the world can you say that mothers are sinners in need of grace, and the best mothers are ones who are redeemed by God, and who are serious disciples are God, and that mothers are not great by definition. They're not ontologically wonderful, necessarily.
If you knew his mother, you'd know why he knew this wasn’t true. And you would also know why it was amazing that he even believed that they were redeemable. That’s the kind of mother he had. So since we know that such things are true, let us start and give a biblical definition of God. I think we had at least had some good parts of that in Isaiah 40 to 48, and you know, we're beginning to see that you can do a whole class on God as a creator, at least if I just keep talking. But we'll try to conclude that and go on to the law.
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