Saturday, September 23, 2006

... what to say?

i've been a Christian now for about... oh, i'm practically coming up to my sixteenth rebirthday, about sixteen years now. i don't think i was a Christian before that, and if i had lost my life beforehand i imagine that i would have died "in the flower of my sins" (as the bard has it) and gone to hell.

some people i know would contest that; holding to a calvinist understanding of predestination as i do, it's somewhat of a contradiction in terms that i believe dying before my conversion would have ended with me in hell - surely if you're predestined to be converted you wouldn't possibly go to hell? i suppose my reasoning is that my predestination at that point wasn't to convert in time, but rather predestined for the judgement of God rather than for his efficacious salvation. now that i am converted from living death to eternal life, i know my place in heaven is assured; next question, please.

but what do i say to someone who doesn't think that? the text we looked at last thursday at Bible study (not last night, but thursday night last week) was on paul's second missionary journey and the events particularly in phillipi. the disciples meet lydia, they heal a slave girl of a demon, and they meet the philippian jailer, who like lydia is baptised along with his household.

i don't know if the general thinking is that the slave girl was likewise converted to Christianity but i don't think the text makes it a natural extrapolation from the narrative. it would be great if she did but i don't think it's a fait accompli that she did.

concurrent to this, i have just finished reading the New Testament, which i was reading every workday morning on the train leg of my journey to work. the revelation to john pulls no punches when it talks about who will be with God in the new heaven and who will not. john elsewhere talks about those who had seemed to be Christians but who left the church and in doing so proved that they never were Christians. did they know that the whole time? had they fooled themselves into thinking they were when they actually weren't? and what kind of God would let people think that?

these are questions that might be asked by one who has been a Christian for some time and now no longer knows why he believes what it might be expected that he believes; he questions if there really is a God at all; he hangs his future actions and happiness on the answer to a question it seems he has already decided for himself.

paul says to the corinthians that "if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" [1 cor 15:19, esv] but until we die we have no ultimate way of knowing if our hope has been directed correctly or not! the Christian says by faith that he knows he will be in heaven; he trusts the scriptures are true; he trusts that the Holy Spirit in his heart is interceding for him when he prays; he trusts that Jesus' blood shed on the cross makes him clean before God. the Christian trusts that God has done everything for him, then lives trusting that it is so.

i say, "the Christian does such-and-such", but that is the Christian when not torn by doubt, plagued by insecurity, overwhelmed by circumstance and emotion. "the ordinary Christian" does suffer from these; some feel them more acutely than others.

does this cancel out the efficacy of that in which we have believed? by no means! rather we have moved away from God, not trusting in that which he has provided for us.

so if we will not pray, if we will not read the Bible; if we will not be persuaded by our brothers and sisters; if we will not consider our hearts from other than our own perspective; if we will not believe God, what then remains?

for me, nothing remains. my faith is literally what keeps me alive. if i do not believe, then the last sixteen years i have lived are all for nought, and i should have done what i'd planned in that bath tub so long ago. i can see no sense in the world without God, no point to this "quintessence of dust" except to eat, drink and be merry. the writer of Ecclesiastes is equally bleak about a world without God; that his words remain long after he fell away does not undermine their power, but rather proves that God's truth outlasts all things.

don't get me wrong. i'm not saying i'm perfect, or that i am the Christian who actually manages to do such-and-such. i have done more wrong after i converted than ever i did before; and yet i know that my redeemer lives - i believe God, and trust that he credits that to me as righteousness. i struggle to show my faith by my deeds.

don't we all?

(... to be continued, i think...)


Anonymous said...

Dear Dr,
As a Christian who is "torn by doubt, plagued by insecurity, overwhelmed by circumstance and emotion." I thankyou for your comments, the fact that you share your experiences and that you've come through so much to become a person of secure faith in our saviour leaves me with hope that I might do the same.

tristan said...

Surely the line of thinking that says that someone who is predestined to be saved, but who dies before they could be, makes it safe and sound to heaven shows a; wishful thinking, and b; an astounding lack of faith/knowledge of what our God can do, and who he is. If God has predestined you to be saved, throwing yourself from a ten story building before the date of conversion will not kill you (or more to the point, the all mighty, all knowing, and all powerful God would not let you do such a thing) as your experience well shows Adam.

dr maya vale said...

predestination is at the same time very basic and very complicated. basic because it is all about the sovereignty of God, and complicated because we ourselves are not God. "for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts," says God by the prophet isaiah [is 55:9, esv]. trying to wrap your head around predestination feels to me like trying to wrap your head around time-travel. it's like asking if God can create an object that he cannot move.

my understanding of God's sovereignty is that his will is shown in what happens rather than what might happen. as for me, i didn't kill myself in that bathtub sixteen years ago. i might have, but i didn't. why? because in God's sovereignty i was predestined to repent and turn to God at that point, not before and not after. if it were before, i would have. if it were after, i wouldn't have killed myself either and would have been left to repent later on.

we know that God is sovereign but we cannot know how deep that sovereignty runs, or how far reaching the smallest event's effects may be, because God's ways are too far above our ways to be understood. "long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" [heb 1:1-2, esv]. God's revelation of his will occurs in his own time, not according to our desires - it is revealed when our desires match God's. (this is why prayer is not bending God's will to our own, but submitting our will to God's.)

why would God allow me to throw myself off a ten-storey building to my death if his will is for me to repent? that doesn't make sense, not because it's outside the boundaries of God's power, but because it is not in God's character as he has revealed himself to us. "have you not read what was said to you by God: 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living." [matt 22:31-32, esv] i have more faith in the bracketed part of your comment, tristan, than the ten-storey part... :)

Kathryn - said...

Dr, you always put a mirror up to my own life and shortcomings. Thank you :)

bjk said...

Please continue.....