Monthly Archives: November 2013

The Decrees of God

The doctrine of the decrees of God is similar to the doctrine of providence. Wayne Grudem distinguishes between the two in his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), which my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, thus: “Here we are thinking about God’s decisions before the world was created, rather than his providential actions in time” (page 332; the italics are his). His consideration of the doctrine being brief, three paragraphs on pages 332-33, I consulted Evangelical Dictionary of Theology and my other systematic theology books on it in preparation for our family reading of what he said. Although I didn’t share anything from them in our family reading, I’ll share a bit from them here.

Each of these systematic theology books devotes a full chapter to the decrees of God:
– Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939.
– Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.
When I quote from or refer to Grudem’s Systematic Theology or them, I’ll give just the author’s surname and the book’s page number.

Definition of the Decrees of God

Strong defines the decrees of God as “that eternal plan by which God has rendered certain all the events of the universe, past, present, and future.” He says that he prefers “plan” to “decrees” because it excludes the ideas of plurality, shortsightedness, arbitrariness, and compulsion (Strong, 353). Erickson has the same preference and even calls his chapter on the topic “God’s Plan” instead of “The Decrees of God.” Although I agree that God has a plan that includes the events which He foreordained, I don’t think that it includes all of the events of the universe because I don’t think that the Bible teaches that He foreordained everything.

Biblical Evidence for the Decrees of God

Grudem quotes these Bible passages as evidence for the doctrine of the decrees of God (Grudem, page 333):
– “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, very one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16, ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV).
– “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; the speaker is Peter).
– “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28; the speakers were friends of Peter and John).
– He [God] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4).
– “For we are his [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Erickson, Strong, and Thiessen also provide Biblical evidence for the doctrine of the decrees of God:
– Erickson, “The Old Testament Teaching” and “The New Testament Teaching,” pages 320-23.
– Strong, “Proof of the Doctrine of Decrees – 1. From Scripture,” pages 355-357.
– Thiessen, “The Content and Order of the Decrees,” pages 104-10.

Characteristics of the Decrees of God

Erickson gives these characteristics for the decrees of God (Erickson, pages 323-26):
1. They are from all eternity. Thus they don’t have a chronological sequence although they have a logical sequence and are enacted in a temporal sequence.
2. They are free on God’s part, not being caused by any internal compulsion or external influence.
3. Their purpose is God’s glory.
4. They are all-inclusive.
5. They are efficacious.
6. They relate to God’s actions rather than to His nature.
7. They relate primarily to what God does in creation, providence, and redemption.
8. They include human actions.
9. They are unchangeable.

Each of the other systematic theology books listed above also identifies and describes several characteristics of the decrees of God:
– Berkhof, “The Nature of the Divine Decrees” and “The Characteristics of the Divine Decrees,” pages 102-05.
– Strong, “Definition of Decrees,” pages 353-55.
– Thiessen, “The Definition of the Decrees” & “The Proof of the Decrees” & “The Bases of the Decrees” & “The Purpose of the Decrees,” pages 100-03.

Objections to the Doctrine of the Decrees of God

Berkhof (pages 105-08) and Strong (pages 359-68) state and reply to these three objections which are made to the doctrine of the decrees of God:
1. It is inconsistent with the free agency of man.
2. It takes away all motive for human exertion.
3. It makes God the author of sin.
I think that the objections are valid if God’s plan includes everything that happens in the universe.

Practical Uses of the Doctrine of the Decrees of God

In his article on “The Decrees of God” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (edited by Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), F. H. Klooster suggests these values of the doctrine of the decrees of God:
– “Scriptural references to God’s decree are generally set forth in concrete relation to historical situations for the purpose of promoting comfort, security, assurance, and trust.”
– “The eternal decrees of God also provides the explanation of predictive prophecy.”

Strong observes that the doctrine of the decrees of God not only inspires humility before and confidence in God but also warns sinners of their decreed and threatened penalty and urges them to accept the appointed means of salvation (Strong, 368).

Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Eight attended, and we worked through the following discussion sheet on the section of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet called “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?”. The discussion was preceded and followed by singing and prayer.

—–

Life Group — If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? (pages 13-22) — November 28, 2013

This week we’ll continue our study of the problem of evil and suffering guided by a booklet by Randy Alcorn called If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? and based on his longer work If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). I asked you to prepare for this week’s meeting by reading the section of If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? called “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?” (pages 13-22) and thinking about the questions on it that appear below. In the meeting we’ll read from If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? and discuss the questions using the following outline:

Opening (pages 13-15)

If you, instead of God, were the author of the story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, how would you have written it?

God’s Story (pages 14-17)

Which story is more satisfying—God’s or yours?
Which story would you like to have taken place, and still be a beneficiary of, ten thousand years from now as you live on the New Earth?
What is most satisfying about God’s story?

[I’ll read parts of chapter 20 of If God Is Good Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, most of which Alcorn devotes to showing that God’s story is more satisfying.]

Adam and Eve’s Sin (pages 17-19)

To what extent are human beings responsible for the sin in the world?

God’s Plan for Humanity (pages 19-22)

How is God’s story the ultimate story?

Closing

What questions do you have about where evil and suffering came from?

—–

Opening (pages 13-15)

Alcorn summarizes the story that God tells in the Bible of His creating Adam and Eve and letting them be tempted by Satan; of their rebelling against Him and evil’s entering the world; of His promising a Redeemer and His people’s looking forward to the Redeemer to come, overthrow their enemies, and set up his kingdom; of Jesus’ being born, being put to death, and rising from the dead; and of Jesus’ promising to return someday, to make things all right, and to live with His people forever.

“If you, instead of God, were the author of the story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, how would you have written it?” – I explained the question as asking what changes we’d make in the story that God told. Members of the group suggested omitting God’s forbidding Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Satan’s presence in the world or in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve, and Adam and Eve’s sin.

God’s Story (pages 15-17)

Alcorn suggests that if the reader were to rewrite the story, he or she would likely omit Satan’s temptation, Adam and Eve’s sin, and all the ensuing human wickedness. He goes on to point out that by preventing the problem in this way, the reader would also prevent the solution to it brought about by Jesus and would thus take away God’s grace, the grace demonstrated by Him in dealing with sin.

“Which story is more satisfying—God’s or yours?” – We agreed that God’s story would be more satisfying, one of us even saying that our story would be boring.

“What is most satisfying about God’s story?” – We agreed that our meeting Jesus is the most satisfying part of God’s story.

We also discussed whether we’ll know each other and whether we’ll remember our life here when we’re living on the New Earth.

Adam and Eve’s Sin (pages 17-19)

Alcorn recommends our going back to God’s story to try to get a better understanding of evil. In it, after seeing that everything that He had made was very good, God told Adam and Eve, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). Despite this clear warning, when tempted by Satan Adam and Eve rebelled against God and ate what was forbidden. As a result God punished each of them and suffering entered the world. After recounting the preceding, Alcorn emphasizes that all sin, from Adam and Eve’s in the Garden of Eden to the last one in history, is against God as well as against those hurt by it.

To what extent are human beings responsible for the sin in the world? – Although recognizing that roles played by God and Satan, we agreed that human beings were fully responsible for the sin in world. We also discussed whether Adam or Eve was more responsible.

God’s Plan for Humanity (pages 19-22)

Alcorn claims that although God was disappointed by Adam and Eve’s sin, it didn’t take Him by surprise. In eternity past He knew that it would happen and, as indicated in Ephesians 1:4-5 (“he [God] chose us in him [Jesus] before the foundation of the earth” and “predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ”), decided how to redeem us.

Next Alcorn observes that God didn’t force Adam and Eve to sin but created them with freedom of choice and allowed Satan to tempt them knowing that they would choose evil. Arguing that all human evil results from people’s exercising meaningful choice and thus that the problem of evil is the problem of freedom, he suggests that God’s reason for giving us this freedom is that God wants us to love Him not because we have to but because we want to.

Alcorn concludes by asserting that although God is the author of a story that includes sin, He isn’t the originator of evil. He intended from the beginning to permit evil but, instead of immediately punishing it fully, also to provide redemption in Jesus Christ so that we would be able to live in His presence on His New Earth with evil and suffering behind us forever. Alcorn observes that when that takes place none of will think that we could have written a better story.

How is God’s story the ultimate story? — We agreed that Alcorn had shown in what we’d just read that it is.

Closing

What questions do you have about where evil and suffering came from? – We didn’t have any questions.

Government, Applications of the Doctrine of God’s Providence, and the Arminian Position

Providence is God’s activity in preserving and governing His creation. My family and I have been studying it in our after-breakfast Bible reading time guided by Chapter 16, “Providence,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem examines three aspects of providence–preservation, concurrence, and government–from a Calvinist perspective and then presents and responds to the major alternative evangelical position, the Arminian view. So far I’ve reported here on our reading of what he says about preservation and concurrence. In this post I’ll report on our reading of what he says about government, applications of the doctrine of God’s providence, and the Arminian position.

Government

This aspect of providence indicates that God has a purpose in everything that He does in the world and that He governs or directs all things so that they accomplish His purposes. Some relevant Bible passages are:
– He does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35, ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV; the speaker is Nebuchadnezzar).
– “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
– “Who [God] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
– “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it [the new Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3; the passage points to God’s ultimate purpose).

Applications of the Doctrine of God’s Providence

Realizing that the doctrine of God’s providence may make us think that our actions don’t make much difference, Grudem considers these points about them:
– We are responsible for our actions, as Adam and Eve found when they tried to blame someone else for their disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)
– Our actions have real results and do affect what happens.
– Prayer is a specific kind of action that brings results. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Jesus is speaking to the Twelve), and James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask,” make this clear.
– We must act. Joab’s words to David’s army in 2 Samuel 10:12, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him,” illustrate the combination of vigorous action and trust in Him that God expects of us. Grudem gives more examples on pages 335-36 of his Systematic Theology.

Grudem goes on to make these points:
– Do not be afraid, but trust in God.
– Be thankful for all good things that happen.
– There is no such thing as “luck” or “chance.” Not believing that God foreordains everything, I disagree with him here.

The Arminian Position

Arminians claim that God’s giving us free will means that He doesn’t cause everything that we do. Thus His plan doesn’t include everything that happens. Instead He responds to our actions as they occur in such a way that His purposes are ultimately accomplished in the world.

Grudem presents the arguments put forward by Arminians for their position under these four points:
– The verses cited by Calvinists as examples of God’s providential control are exceptions and do not describe how God ordinarily works.
– The Calvinist view makes God responsible for sin.
– Choices caused by God aren’t real choices.
– The Calvinist view encourages fatalism.

Grudem responds to each of the arguments and then makes some additional objections to the Arminian position. Because of their length, my family and I didn’t read either in our family reading despite my original plan for us to “read everything that Grudem says in the order that he gives it” and thus I won’t share them here. However if anyone reading this article would like to know how Grudem responds to a specific argument, just ask in a comment on this post and I’ll tell you in a reply to your comment.

God and Evil

Their belief that God foreordained everything poses a problem for Calvinists. Wayne Grudem, whose Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast family Bible reading time, presents the problem in this way: “Does God actually cause the evil actions that people do? If he does, then is God not responsible for sin?” (Systematic Theology, pages 322-23). How serious Grudem considers the problem is indicated by his devoting almost nine pages (pages 322-31) to it. This post follows the order of and draws on the content of his fine (from a Calvinist viewpoint) presentation.

Bible Passages Indicating God’s Bringing about Evil

Below is a small selection of the extensive list of Bible passages quoted by Grudem indicating that God brought about some evil. All Bible passages are quoted from the ESV. Note that although God may prompt evil to be done, it is not done by Him but is done by people (or demons) who choose to do it.
– “Joseph said to his brothers…’Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life'” (Genesis 45:4-5; note that what Joseph says is from him, not from God).
– “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharoah all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let my people go'” (Exodus 4:21; a chart in the <i>ESV Study Bible</i> shows when God hardened Pharoah’s heart, when Pharoah’s heart was hardened, and when Pharoah hardened his heart; cf. Romans 9:17-18).
– “It was the LORD’s doing to harden their [the Canaanites’] hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed” (Joshua 11:20).
– “The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 24:1; after having the people numbered, David realized that he had sinned in doing so and accepted God’s punishment for his doing so [2 Kings 24:10-17]; 1 Chronicles 21:1 indicates that God used Satan in inciting David to number Israel.)
– “I make well-being and create calamity. I am the LORD, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
– “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:38).
– “Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it?” (Amos 3:6).
– “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23; note that what the speaker, Peter, said is from him, not from God; however I personally view it as inspired by the Holy Spirit.)
– “For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place” (Acts 4:27-28; note that what the speakers, friends of Peter and John, said is from them, not from God).
– “Therefore God send them [those who refuse to accept the Gospel] a strong delusion, so that they believe what is false [the message of the AntiChrist], in order that they may all be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Analysis of the Passages

Although I said earlier that my family and I would read all of Chapter 16, “God’s Providence,” of Grudem’s Systematic Theology, we read just part of his analysis of the Bible passages which he’d quoted to show that God brought about some evil. He drew these conclusions in what we read:
1. God uses all things, even evil, to fulfill His purposes. Relevant Bible passages are Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”; Genesis 45:4-5, quoted above; and Romans 9:7-8, referred to above.
2. God never does evil and shouldn’t blamed for evil. Relevant Bible passages are Luke 22:22 (similar to Acts 2:23 and 4:27-28 quoted above), “For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed,” and James 1:13-14, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
3. God rightfully blames and judges people for the evil that they do. A relevant Bible passage is, “These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”
4. Evil is real and we should never do it, for it will always harm us and others. Accordingly, we should pray, “Deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

The Problem of Evil at Open Theism

For more on the problem of evil at Open Theism see these posts:
– “O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” (January 26, 2013)
– “The Problem of Evil” (June 21, 2013)
– “Job’s Afflictions” (July 12 and October 17, 2013)
– “Job’s Friends” (October 24, 2013)
– “God Addresses and Restores Job” (July 19 and November 7, 2013)
– “How Evil and Suffering Are Related” (July 26, 2013)
– “If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? – Introduction” (November 14, 2013)
– “Where Do Evil and Suffering Come From?” (August 2, 2013)
– “Natural Disasters” (August 16, 2013)
– “The Most Common Explanations Given for Evil and Suffering” (August 23, 2013)

“O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die?” reflects on the death of my first wife from complications following successful open-heart surgery in 1971. It is based on a paper that I wrote in the summer of 1984 while working on a M.A. in Humanities with California State University Dominguez Hills and on shorter and longer versions of it that appeared as articles in the February 1998 issue of Good Tidings (the official publication of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador) and a few years later in Bob’s Corner at Suite101.com.

The June, July, and August posts were posted in preparation for the study of the problem of evil that the Life group which my wife and I attend was planning to begin in September. The group is one of a number of Life groups that meet under the auspices of Windsor Pentecostal Church (www.wpcnl.ca). They meet at various places and times. Ours meets in a home on Thursday evenings.

The October and November posts are reports on that study. We began with three studies from the book of Job and are now working through a booklet by Randy Alcorn based on his If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). A new post should appear each Friday based on the previous evening’s meeting until we finish working through the booklet except when a meeting is cancelled.

Concurrence

Concurrence is the aspect of providence in which God works together with created things. Like preservation, which I considered in my last post, it isn’t clearly shown in the world around us and so I’ll give some Bible passages that show it, starting with inamimate creation and going on to animals and finally to human beings. Most of the passages are ones cited by Wayne Grudem in considering concurrence in Chapter 16, “Providence,” of the book that my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994).

Inanimate Creation

Some Bible passages which indicate that God works together with His inanimate creation are:
– “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?” (Job 38:31-33, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV; God is speaking to Job; the Pleiades, etc., are constellations; the whole chapter is relevant).
– “You [the LoRD] cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” (Psalm 104:14-15).
– “Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Psalm 135:6-7).
– “He [the LORD] gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes. He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow and the waters flow” (Psalm 147:16-18).
– “He [the Father who is in heaven] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45; the speaker is Jesus).

The passages indicate not only that God has set the rules by which natural phenomena function but also that He can direct their operation. However unlike Calvinists, who believe that God foreordained everything that happens, I don’t believe that God foreordained everything that happens in nature. If I did, I’d have to believe that He foreordained the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. On the contrary I think that He is as unhappy over it as we are. Why then did He allow it to happen? Because such events are part of the curse that the world fell under when Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Knowing that God can and sometimes does intervene, my family naturally prayed for the safety of my wife’s family in the Philippines when we heard of the typoon. However we did so knowing that God doesn’t generally interfere with how nature operates and that it is only when we’re with Him in the New Jerusalem that we shall be free of all such catastrophes. For an explanation of the difference between the Calvinist view and my view of providence, see my January 12, 2013, post, “General Rather Than Meticulous Providence.” Note that the Open Theism Information Site referred to in that post is currently not available.

Animals

Some Bible passages which indicate that God works together with animals are:
– “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their thicket? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God for help, or wander about for lack of food?” (Job 38:39-41; God is speaking to Job).
– “These [creatures on the earth and in the sea] all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust” (Psalm 104:27-29).
– “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26; the speaker is Jesus).
– “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29; the speaker is Jesus).

Human Beings

Some Bible passages which show how God works together with human beings are:
– “The LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia” (Ezra 1:1; illustration of how God sometimes influences rulers in their decisions, in this case prompting Cyrus to help the Jews to rebuild the Temple).
– “Kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28; recognition by David that God works together with nations as well as with individuals).
– “For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (Psalm 75:6-7; assertion by God that He will ultimately bring judgment on “the boastful” and “the wicked”).
– “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 6:9; comparison between what a person may plan and what God may cause to happen).
– “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5; affirmation by God to Jeremiah that He had plans for him even before he was born).
– “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11; part of the prayer that Jesus told his disciples to pray like which appeals to God for help in providing for their physical needs).
– “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 1:7; reminder by Paul to the Corinthians that the ultimate sources of their abilities, etc., was the Lord).

However God’s providential direction does not take away from the reality of our choices. As the Bible clearly shows, God has given us a free will to choose what to do and thus holds us responsible for what we do. Because Calvinists believe that God foreordains everything and yet realize that He isn’t responsible for our bad deeds, they hypothesize a special kind of free will in which both God ordains what we do and we choose freely to do those things. Thus, they say, we should be held responsible for doing those things even though God ordained that we would do them. However, as David recognized in 2 Samuel 16:10-11, we should not be responsible for doing those things which God ordains that we do. When Abishai wanted to punish Shimei for cursing David, David replied, “If he is cursing because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’…Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to.” We are responsible for our actions because we, not God, determine that we do them. However, as the Bible passages quoted above, He is always ready to work together with us

Preservation

According to the Bible, God not only is creator of everything but also preserves and governs everything. We call this activity of God His providence. Chapter 16, “Providence,” of the book that my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), observes that by accepting the doctrine of providence we avoid four common errors in thinking about God’s relationship with what He has created: the belief that He created the universe but isn’t involved in it or in the lives of human beings now (deism), the belief that everything is Him or a part of Him (pantheism), the belief that events are determined by chance (randomness), and the belief that events are determined by fate (determinism).

In the chapter Grudem examines three aspects of providence–preservation, concurrence, and government–from a Calvinist perspective and then presents and responds to the major alternative evangelical position, the Arminian view. In our family reading we’ll read everything that Grudem says in the order that he gives it, noting as we do so how what he says corresponds with or doesn’t correspond with what I understand the Bible to teach. On the other hand, in my posts I’ll present what I understand the Bible to teach about a topic and then note alternative views on that topic. For a comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism, see my November 17, 2012, post, “Calvinism and Arminianism”; and for a summary of how the view which I hold (open theism) differs from them, see my October 27, 2012, post, “An Introduction to Open Theism.”

Some Bible passages which indicate that God preserves what He has created are:
– “You [the LORD] have made heaven…the earth…the seas…and you preserve all of them” (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV; the speakers are some Levites).
– “If he [God] should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust” (Job 34:14-15; the speaker is Elihu).
– “In him [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28; Paul is quoting a Greek poet).
– “By him [Jesus Christ] all things were created…and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).
– “He [the Son of God, Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

God’s preserving what He has created includes their maintaining their properties. Grudem points out that this provides a basis for science and technology.

Creation and Modern Science – Part 3

In my last post I shared the opinion of Wayne Grudem, the writer of the book that my family and I are reading in our after-breakfast Bible reading time, his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), that God hasn’t given us enough information to make a clear decision whether Genesis 1’s days of creation were periods of twenty-four hours or long periods of time and considered one theory that they were long periods of time. In this post I’ll consider two theories that they were periods of twenty-four hours, “appearance of age” and “flood geology,” and present and comment on Grudem’s final conclusions on the age of the earth. I’ll conclude by noting some applications of the doctrine of creation.

Creation with an Appearance of Age

According to this theory, the original creation must have had an appearance of age from the start. An obvious example is Adam and Eve’s appearance as full-grown adults. Another example suggested by Grudem is Adam and Eve’s likely seeing stars their first night although light from most stars would take thousands or millions of years to reach earth. The theory is also called “mature creationism.”

The theory has many supporters, their often combining it with objections to current scientific dating processes. They question whether the rate of decay of elements has been constant since their creation and suggest that God’s curse on nature after Adam and Eve’s fall (Genesis 3:17) and the flood in the time of Noah (Genesis 7-8) may have caused differences in the amount of radioactive material in living things.

A common objection to the theory is that it seems to make God a deceiver. However Grudem argues, and I agree with him, that God’s creating Adam and Eve as mature adults and allowing them to see the stars their first night point to His wisdom and power rather than showing Him as a deceiver. On the other hand Grudem concedes, and again I agree with him, that God’s creating of fossils and scattering them throughout the world to give an added appearance of age does seem deceptive. Apparently the only reasonable explanations for the fossil record that Christians can hold are that current dating methods are incorrect for the reasons given in the preceding paragraph or that the earth is extremely old.

Flood Geology

According to this theory, during the flood in the time of Noah (Genesis 8-9) the high pressure exerted by water on the earth changed the face of the earth and the flood deposited fossils in layers of sediment all over the earth. Although thinking that the flood was worldwide and that it had a significant effect of the face of the earth, Grudem confesses that he’s not persuaded that all of the earth’s geological formations were caused by the flood instead of by millions of years of sedimentation, etc. Although I agree with him that if the present geological formations could be explained as the result of a universal flood this should be evident to non-Christian geologists as well as to Christian geologists, which according to him it isn’t, I’m not familiar enough with the writings of either to express an opinion.

The Age of the Earth

Observing that the scientific evidence favours the “old earth” position but that its interpretations of Genesis 1 don’t seem as natural to the text as the “young earth” position, Grudem concludes that both views are possible and that neither is certain. He suggests that God may not allow us to find a clear solution to the problem before the return of Jesus Christ and thus that proponents of both positions should try to work together “with much less arrogance, much more humility, and a much greater sense of cooperation in a common purpose” (Grudem, page 308). I haven’t read enough by proponents of either position to comment on Grudem’s suggestion, but I certainly agree with him that we should recognize that both views are possible and that neither is certain.

Application of the Doctrine of Creation

Grudem concludes his consideration of the doctrine of creation by suggesting some applications of it. It should remind us that God created the material universe good and thus should cause us to realize that it is good in itself and that we should enjoy it and use it in ways that are pleasing to Him. It should also remind us that God is sovereign over the universe that He created and that He will ultimately defeat His enemies and reign as King. And the size and complexity of what God has created should encourage us to worship and praise Him.

My family and I also discussed two of the seven questions for personal application of the doctrine of creation which Grudem poses at the end of Chapter 15, “Creation,” of Systematic Theology and noted the Bible memory passage and hymn which Grudem suggested for the chapter. No new ideas came out in our discussion, the Bible memory verse is Nehemiah 9:6, and the hymn is Psalm 148 set to music. Nehemiah 9:6 is below, and Psalm 148 is at the beginning of my November 12 “The Purpose and Quality of Creation” post.

You are the LORD, you alone. You made the heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6, ESV).