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Every Life Is a Plan of God [J. Oswald Sanders]

March 25, 2016 Leave a comment

sandersWho knew that the minor half of the dynamic duo was a theologian? Robin sums up Sander’s book in rather a succinct way,

The way we get into these scrapes and get out of them, it’s almost as though someone was dreaming up these situations [and] guiding our destiny.

Oswald himself states [pg 39],

God has a plan for every life. Our circumstances are not accidental but planned by Him.

In this book, Sanders attempts to answer the question: Is every life a plan of God? Many Christians reference a “blueprint” or “a plan” that God has for each and every individual. If Sander’s statement doesn’t qualify as a “blueprint” statement, then I don’t know what does. I’m terribly frustrated and even feel poisoned in my own Christian perspective regarding God’s character because of “blueprint” thinking. In part, I’ve landed on an Open Theistic perspective as to my relationship with God if only because it seems impossible to rectify my own life’s circumstances (and also those of others, too) from the lens of Scripture. If I were to believe that situations are not by accident and were in fact planned for and otherwise ordained by God, then it only stands to reason that God intentionally brought about evil and horrible things like: the Holocaust, rape, murder, personal suffering, mass starvation, disease, infirmity and all that is NOT the fruit of the spirit. I’ve yet to find a proponent of the “blueprint” giving thanks for the political decisions that brought about abortion, gay marriage, transgendered bathrooms or a host of other moral dilemmas.

The number of times I come across “blueprint” thinking is mind-boggling. Below are a few examples which help to make my point:

1) The 1942 movie, Pride of the Yankees in which Lou Gehrig learns that he has contracted ALS:

  • Lou: “Give it to me straight, doc. Is it three strikes?”
  • Doc: “Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.”
  • Lou: “Well, I’ve learned something over my life. You can’t change the call of the umpire.”

2) A former beauty pageant contestant who, many believe, lost the Miss America contest because of her answer to a question about same-sex marriage. Afterwards, Carrie Prejean was quoted as saying,

God chose me for that moment.

3) Then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referred to presidential candidate Barack Obama as “a leader that God has blessed us with at this time.” We’ve reached a new theological realm relating to the will of God when liberal or conservative politicians exude religious overtones.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0808/Obama_I_will_win.html

4) A short summary of Wall Drug Store’s history states:

  • Our families agreed that we should all pray about the decision to buy a small drug store in Wall, SD in 1931.
  • We asked God’s guidance.
  • In the end, everyone felt that it was God’s will for us to go to Wall.
  • But now [that we’re all alone in SD], we wondered if we’d heard God right.

Was it God’s will for Wall Drug to prosper during the middle 1930s when so many people and businesses were struggling through the Great Depression? If so, then it seems reasonable to believe that God picks and chooses which businesses will thrive and which ones will fail. If that is so, then it seems reasonable to believe that God wills for many people to suffer financially.

5) A blog was set up on our church’s web site to allow for comments on the pastor’s summer sermon series. A statement from one commenter related to the will of God pertaining to the adoption of two daughters:

[I’m reminded] from Bible verses [that] God has plans to prosper and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that God works all things for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) to radio songs about [how I should surrender] my life completely to God. I’ve never been happier in my life. To top it off, God has met all of our financial needs and even most of our wants.

I posted the following response:

The overriding perception is that you’re trusting God based not only on the feelings you’ve experienced but also on the outcome. Ultimately, you felt that this direction was the right thing to do and the outcome of that decision – being that you’ve never been happier and aren’t lacking for anything has validated that decision. Who am I to say that you’re not right? Maybe God did lead you. Still, I find it troubling that non-Christians could use the same logic and draw the same conclusions based on similar experiences. How is it that Christians today lay claim to God prospering them today based on Jer 29:11? This is indeed what scripture says. However, is this what scripture teaches? The reference in Jeremiah is a historical event wherein God gave a promise to those whom Nebuchadnezzar had exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. Furthermore, there was a seventy-year period from when the promise was given to the promise’s eventual fulfillment. In addition, I don’t think the Rom 8:28 reference supports your contention that God “willed” you into a specific direction as I don’t see the verse saying that God directs everything.

6) Not sure where another church-friend got this quote:

I’m realizing that the most important thing I can do is give up the control I think I have over my own life so that the Lord can bring about His control in my life. I need to trust and give up control.

What’s so astonishing about this quote is that just two years prior, this same person emphatically stated how it was God’s will that they should buy a particular house. In answer to my question as to how they knew that, the response was, “Well, we got the house, didn’t we.” And now, suffice it to say, higher mortgage payments coupled with other poor financial dealings are putting a severe strain on this couple’s relationship – not only with each other but also (as I see it) with God. I sense an inability (maybe an unwillingness?) to understand how poor financial decisions and not “the will of God” has brought about their current difficulties. And, too, I sense that admitting to mistakes is to admit that they were exercising a false faith by believing that God chose that house for in the first place.

Perhaps this couple is living-out a “blind faith”. Interestingly enough, Webster’s dictionary definition of the word ‘blind’ clarifies what I believe to be the root cause of this couple’s difficulties:

  • Unable or unwilling to discern or judge.
  • Having no regard to rational discrimination, guidance, or restriction.
  • Made or done without sight of certain objects or knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance.

The reality is that God has provided a “wealth” (pun intended) of information about money-matters. It appears to me that this couple is experiencing the (natural occurring) consequences of financial decisions that are inconsistent with biblically based money management practices. In reality, then, [so far as I believe] this couple’s current financial difficulties have nothing to do with God’s will.

7) Joni Eareckson Tada dealt with breast cancer a few years ago. In a video to her supporters, she stated,

Our afflictions come from the hand of our all wise and sovereign God.

According to Joni, then, God gave her cancer. Well, not to sound harsh, but given her own words, is not doubt revealed in God’s “all wise” and “sovereign” plan or might there be there an expressed lack of confidence in God’s ability to heal displayed when Joni seeks out medical assistance i.e. surgery, chemotherapy and radiation? After all, according to Joni, it was God who determined that she was to contract cancer. Why, then, would she want to be cancer-free?

8) A letter posted on a Caring Bridge web site for a young boy with acute myelogenous leukemia:

God has so many ways to teach patience – and all of the other Fruits of the Spirit. Keep remembering that you are all doing God’s work right now. What a blessed job you are called to do – what an awesome job you all are doing! Thank you for being faithful servants. What an example you are to the rest of us. Rose

I’m sure Rose is well intentioned. However, her comments raise a number of questions about who she believes God to be and how He interacts with us. Perhaps Rose is a “Godwillian” believing that whatever happens, God desires it to be, and us mere mortals need to figure out what it is that God wants us to learn from it.

9) I’m convinced that John Piper is a Godwillian. He’s quoted in Is God to Blame (pg 48) as saying:

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for His wise and just and good purpose.

Greg Boyd’s response follows on pg 53:

Not once did Jesus suggest that a person’s afflictions were brought about or specifically allowed by God as part of a ‘secret plan’. Nor did [Jesus] suggest that some people suffered because God was punishing them or teaching them a lesson. [Jesus] didn’t ask people what they might have done to get in the sad predicament they found themselves in – even when dealing with demonized people. Jesus never suggested that a person’s suffering was brought about to contribute to a ‘higher harmony’. To the contrary, Jesus consistently revealed God’s will for people by healing them of their infirmities.

I’m told that my thoughts on will-of-God issues tend to put God in a box. We mere mortals simply can’t understand the nature of God and how He interacts with His creation. Fair enough. But I can’t help but think the folks noted above make God out to be something He isn’t.

Has God placed particular people in particular positions at particular times for His end-results? The Apostle Paul, of course, had his Damascus Road experience. And Jesus chose those whom He wanted as His disciples. That said, from my reading and understanding of the Bible (primarily of the New Testament), it is exceedingly rare that God chose specific people for certain tasks. Furthermore, in my opinion, those instances only occurred during the early formation of the Church.

I regret my disappointment and frustrations as I read through Sander’s book because I find (albeit this is certainly not Sander’s intention) that God is reduced to nothing more than a Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or for that matter any common thief or serial murderer. As an example, Sander references the missionary work of William Carey [pg17] in which ten years of translation work were destroyed in a fire. Carey’s emphasized two points in his first sermon after the fire:

  1. It’s God’s right to “dispose of us” (emphasis mine) as He chooses.
  2. It’s our duty to “accept God’s choice.”

Really? REALLY?? This is Calvinist perspective and is not consistent with Jesus’ teaching that God is love. Or if it is, count me as a non-believer.

It’s unfortunately, too, that Sanders uses utter nonsense in the misapplication of Rom 9 by quoting Morgan Derham in his book “The Mature Christian”. The point of Rom 9 is God’s grace now being offered through faith to both the Jew and the Gentile and not, as Derham infers, that it’s up to God (the potter) to do to us (the clay) as he sees fit.

In fairness, I find it difficult to effectively argue against verses such as Ps 32:8-9 or Eph 2:10 [pg 35-36] as to God having an individual will. It would be my opinion, however, that these verses are not related to a specific will, per se, but rather we’re being instructed to follow God’s moral will in our lives.

As best I could, I slogged through the book eventually landing on chapter 8: “Walking in Wisdom – Cautions About Guidance” [pg 149]. What? Huh?? Really??? This book has referenced perhaps 250 verses of scripture in order to understand divine leading. And now, [pg 152] Sanders states, “Be suspicious of any purported leading that would help us to sidestep a difficult choice that has the appearance of the will of God.” NOW I AM TO BE SUSPICIOUS?? Really?? You’ve got to be kidding me because in one sentence, Sander’s book has devolved into nonsense – or worse, a fraudulent belief. Or, would it be accurate to say a faith based on a myth? Interestingly enough, Sanders discusses [pg 26-28] nine myths of God’s will. In essence, everything boils down to something along the lines of, “Well, it might be God leading. But, it might not be God leading.” Not only is this illogical, it’s also nothing but ‘Christianese’ – put rather curtly – good sounding male bovine spiritual manure.

I’d like to believe that the debate between Calvinists and Arminians doesn’t really matter. But this debate is clearly relevant in how I perceive God’s character. So, where do I go or what do I do with all this theological turmoil? A good friend once asked the question:

If one takes away all of the questions, all of the assumptions, all of the preconceived notions that we as believers have – what’s left?

I’m not sure. I’ve been struggling to understand the nature and character of God and in all honesty, my relationship to my heavenly Father has been at best distant as I’ve struggled through such issues as the will of God and predestination as advocated by ardent Calvinists. Perhaps, as my friend finally stated, it all boils down to the simplicity of believing as spelled out in the Apostle’s Creed:

  • I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
  • And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
  • Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
  • Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell
  • The third day he rose again from the dead
  • He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
  • From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
  • I believe in the Holy Ghost
  • I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints
  • The forgiveness of sin
  • The resurrection of the body
  • And the life everlasting

I hope it’s enough. It’ll have to do for now. 

An Approach to Knowing God’s Will

March 21, 2016 2 comments

diceThis post came about as a response to a ten page term paper written by a friend. I regret I’m unable to link to the paper in which is presented a defense of knowing specifically how God is leading each and every individual. Although not specifically stated, the overtone from my Calvinist friend is that God not only leads believers, but that he also leads and directs non-believers.

The three main themes from An Approach to Knowing God’s Will is that God:

  1. Has a will for all people
  2. Has a will for all Christians
  3. Has a specific will for each Christian

I’m in agreement with the first two parts that God has a will for all people which is – to be saved. Obviously, even if I’m not a Calvinist. I’m also in agreement that God has a will for all Christians – which I’d refer to as the “moral will”. The book of Proverbs & Rom 12 immediately come to mind as to general conduct for believers (and, I’d also add, non-believers, too).

The third point that God has a specific will for each Christian is our main difference. Your conclusion states that the Spirit leads specifically “as to the type and place of service.” In addition, you add that God leads and directs individuals to any number of other things including the church one should join, what one’s spiritual service should be, whom to marry, which house to buy, what car to purchase, etc. After all, “[God] knows what’s best for me.”

I find it ever curious that the Bible is replete with general principles and apparent guidelines for (what I believe to be) the express purpose of decision-making. It seems self-evident that God wanted us to have an “instructional guide” to make wise decisions. To which, we’ve been given the Book of Proverbs. By using biblical principles, I can make wise – and I would even say, godly decision as to any number of things – personal, financial or moral.

I don’t believe that I’ve been led to a particular church. In fact, we’ve attended five different churches in the 32 years we’ve lived in the Twin Cities. The reasons we left a given church are perhaps not germane to this discussion. However, suffice it to say that different churches have appealed to me at different times in my life. Ultimately, my criteria for a church is rather simple:

  1. Do I like the overall configuration of the service?
  2. Is the church evangelical in nature?
  3. Can I be “fed” or otherwise grow spiritually?
  4. Is there a ministry where I can serve?
  5. Is the church within reasonable proximity to where I live?

Lastly, as to what line of work (spiritual service) – how’s ‘bout whatever’s within your “bent” or natural abilities? For me, I can’t work with kids. I hate the chaos and occasional talk-back and discipline issues. On the other hand, I have no fear of walking up to someone and introducing myself. I must have the gift of hospitality. To which, I’m a greeter. My “job” each Sunday is to intentionally seek out people I don’t know for the express purpose of welcoming them. 

Decision-making is often difficult and stressful if for no other reason than there is incomplete information. And, the full impact of decisions can’t always been known. Obviously, some decisions made are better than others. However, as I look at some of Paul’s writings, it’s apparent that God allowed Paul to freely make decisions. Below are some instances where Paul exercised decision-making. I’ve included a paraphrase for the issue/concern at hand:

  • Phil 2:25 (I think it’s a good idea)
  • 1 Cor 16:3-4 (If it seems the right thing to do)
  • Acts 6:1-7 (We need to do something about this)
  • Acts 15:24-29 (People got together, debated, decided, and acted)

A letter sent from our church’s board of elders to the congregation illustrates Paul’s examples: 

After evaluating recent giving patterns to the general fund, the elders have determined (emphasis mine) that we must take a decisive step toward “right sizing” our current staffing numbers.

Clearly, the board didn’t “wait upon the Lord”. Nor did the elders indicate any divinely received indication as to whose employment should be terminated. Rather, they have given this difficult decision its due consideration and, I believe, exercised care and concern by way of:

  • Analysis – “After evaluating recent giving patterns”
  • Collective wisdom – “After much prayer and discussion”
  • Decision – “We must take a decisive step”
  • Reflection – “This was not an easy decision”

Nowhere are there passages where Paul explains such things as open doors, closed windows or otherwise how God guides individuals. Nor do I find a “method” by which one can ascertain the “will of God”. Instead, Paul describes in various places just what comprises the “will of God”. Interestingly enough, there’s no ambiguity or uncertainty. Romans 12 is a clear and concise outline of God’s will for how we should live:

Rom 12:1      Dedicate your body to God

Rom 12:2      Be transformed. Put on new man

Rom 12:3      Don’t overestimate yourself. Rate your own ability soberly

Rom 12:6-7  Use your gift and give yourself to it

Rom 12:9      Love with sincerity

Rom 12:9      Hate evil and turn from it

Rom 12:9      Hold fast to that which is good

Rom 12:10     Love one another. Prefer one another

Rom 12:11     Never lag in zeal and earnest endeavor

Rom 12:11     Be aglow with the spirit, serving the Lord

Rom 12:12     Rejoice and exult in hope

Rom 12:12     Be steadfast under pressure

Rom 12:12     [Be] Patient in suffering

Rom 12:12     Constant in prayer

Rom 12:13     Give

Rom 12:14     Bless those who persecute you

Rom 12:15     Share others’ lives, give of yourself

Rom 12:16     Live in harmony – adjust

Rom 12:17     Repay no one evil for evil

Rom 12:17     Be honest and above reproach. Avoid the appearance of evil

Rom 12:18     Live at peace with everyone

Rom 12:19     Avenge not yourself

Rom 12:20     Do good to your enemies

Rom 12:21     Overcome evil with good

In conclusion, I don’t see the Bible teaching that God routinely directs the decisions we make. That said, I would agree that it has been the rare exception when God directly intervenes with someone i.e. Paul’s Damascus Road experience. And even for those actually guided directly by God, so far as I can tell, that guidance appears only related to evangelism. To paraphrase Garry Friesen from his book, Decision Making and the Will of God: Any decision made that does not violate God’s moral laws is acceptable to God and even brings about honor and glory to him.