The Back Page -Conundrums/Conundra

Light acts like a wave, but also like a particle. How can it do both? Hard to understand, but we tend to use light anyway.

The Bible asserts that God is sovereign. It also teaches human responsibility. How can God be sovereign and I be responsible?

God “works all things after the counsel of his will.” “The king’s heart is like channels of water in Yahweh’s hand; he turns it wherever he wishes.” Sounds like God is firmly in control. The Westminster Confession puts it this way: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass.”

But the Bible speaks just as clearly about our responsibility for the choices we make. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life.” “The Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose [or “plan” or “will”] for themselves.” Very real choices with just-as-genuine consequences.

The Bible says that sometimes God acts (or does not act) based on what we first do (or do not do). God encouraged Hezekiah: “Because you have prayed to me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that Yahweh has spoken against him—‘He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there.’” “Because you prayed.” Had Hezekiah not prayed, Sennacherib might have come. Jesus responded to the entreaty of blind men by touching their eyes and saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.”

We dare not blame God’s sovereignty, or his making us the way we are, or his putting us in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, for our own failures. That is what Adam attempted in Eden: “The woman you gave me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Adam tried to blame Eve, and then God for giving him Eve, for his own sin. Today, if anyone refuses to repent and believe the gospel, it will be his or her own fault, not God’s.

Light is wave and particle. God is sovereign and humans are responsible. As we look above the door leading to salvation, we see a sign reading, “Whosoever will may come.” Once we have entered and look back, above the door we read, “Chosen before the foundation of the world.” Both are true, and neither is false.

The Back Page – Easter and Butterflies

Unless we knew better, we would suspect no relationship between the above insects. But they are the same because of this:

The monarch caterpillar feasts on milkweed leaves for two weeks, then suspends itself from a stem and transforms into a chrysalis. From the outside the chrysalis appears dead. But on the inside, metamorphosis transforms caterpillar into butterfly. In ten days the adult emerges—utterly different from what had entered.

When you and I die, our existence seems to have ended. We lie still and unresponsive. But we are not gone, merely awaiting our metamorphosis. What emerges from the grave will surpass what entered: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” “God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

How do we know such ideas are not simply wishful thinking—dreams we nurture because we fear extinction? The resurrection of Jesus. His disciples did not expect that, though he had predicted it repeatedly. Thomas would not believe until he saw Jesus and could feel his wounds. But once the Eleven became settled in their minds through “many convincing proofs,” they went everywhere proclaiming what —and whom—they had seen. Their Master raised from the dead. Easter.

The Back Page – Becoming God’s Book

We consider the Bible to be God’s book. It is, but the Bible is not the only writing God has authored
… or is authoring.
In Paul’s day, before internet searches, itinerant teachers relied on letters of recommendation to
introduce them to churches they wished to visit. These commendations were composed by accredited
leaders, and served to quiet any qualms a church might have about an unknown somebody suddenly
standing on its doorstep. We hear Paul, e.g., introducing his emissaries in 2 Cor 8:16–24.
In that same letter the apostle, unfortunately, had to defend his own credentials. Some in the church
tended to belittle him. So he asked, “Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from
you?” Then he said an amazing thing—“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our
hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human
hearts.” The church—and the people of the church—were a letter from Christ.
God has written many books. Creation … but some people misread this book and credit mindless
evolution rather than a wise creator. Conscience … but some people so sin against conscience that they no
longer can read conscience correctly. History … but many of our books have been re-written to excise any
recognition of the divine. The Bible … but this remains a closed book for most people. We—God’s people
and Christ’s church—are the first, and sometimes the only, writing unbelievers read. They watch us, and
because we profess God’s name, infer ideas about God’s existence and character by what they read in our
attitudes and actions.
This is God’s design. The Lord urged, “Let your light so shine among people that they see your good
deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” People read us and praise God. Peter concurred—“Live such
good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds
and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Sometimes Christians say, “I don’t want people to see me. Jesus only!” But if we are God’s writing,
they do need to see and read us. “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

The Back Page – A Metonymy

Like any good literature, the Bible uses figures of speech. One is “metonymy of container for contents.” In this figure, the word for a container of some kind is written, but what the writer is referring to is what is inside. For example, the Bible might use the word “house” when what it means is “the people who live in the house.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved—you and your house.” The building is not being saved; the people who live inside are. “God so loved the world….” Not the globe, but the people who inhabit it. “The whole town gathered at the door.” Not the town with its buildings and streets, but the citizens of that town.

We use metonymy of container for contents all the time: “The White House said today….” No, the White House itself said nothing; the president living there said something.

Jesus commissioned us to “made disciples of all nations.” Do we disciple all nations as nations, or do we seek to win and train the individual citizens who comprise those nations? Are we supposed to tell the Peruvian legislature, for example, what laws to enact? Or are we instead to focus on winning Peruvian people to the Lord?

True, once we are saved God wants us to influence for good the societies in which we live. But that is not the same as discipling them. “Discipling” implies a position of authority we simply do not have. When we disciple individuals, Jesus says to baptize before teaching them. How would we baptize a whole nation? Nowhere in the NT does Paul try to disciple the Roman Empire, or any city within it. We do see him evangelizing Rome’s citizens, including its leaders: “I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.”

As salt and light, we are to be salty and shiny—keeping our own lives in order—both individually and corporately. We are not called upon to dictate morality to non-Christians. “What have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” This is not an excuse for passivism on our part, but rather a reminder to focus on what needs converting first of all—the human heart.

Matthew 28:19–20 contains a metonymy. Let us win to the Lord and disciple individuals from every nation.