Monday, September 24, 2012

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

"You who are sinning, it is your responsibility to stop, become sorry, and return to God."

"You who have returned, God has led you away from your sins, brought you to repentance, and numbered you among His elect in Christ."

Wait, but didn't God decide before the foundation of the world which of us He was going to save?

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

"You who are sinning, God will hold you responsible for your sinful actions, unless you change your ways."

"You repentant in Christ, God alone has saved you apart from any work or merit on your part."

Wait, but didn't doesn't God alone ultimately decide who ends up turning away from sin, being repentant, and coming to Christ?

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

Wait! If God alone determines who will come to repentance, receive forgiveness, and be numbered among the elect - and man has no cooperation towards this end - then why is it my job to change myself? How can you tell me God will hold me accountable for my actions, if I have no way out of the condition that causes my actions except God chooses to release me from that cause? If I am bound, how can I be blamed for what binds me? If the only way to change depends solely on God, then why doesn't God change everyone?

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Those teachings are not being used in the right place, even though they describe our beliefs correctly. We are not supposed to tell people that their coming to faith and remaining in it depends solely on God, and that it has nothing to do with them, but only God's choice, EXCEPT when we are talking to current believers who need more reason to hope that they will be saved. You're not supposed to tell people this up front!"

Why? If God alone chooses who gets to be saved, and He alone makes it happen, then being up front about this belief can harm nothing. God's will shall still be done, right? So long as His Word and Sacraments are administered according to His command those whom He chose to be saved will be, and the others will not.

"It's not faithful to tell people up front that God alone has already decided who will believe, and which believers will remain in the faith until the end. You have to tell people this truth at the right time. Only once they've believed everything else we've taught can you tell them this. Then it's comforting. That's what God wants."

Really? So God doesn't want people to know that the seating in heaven and hell has already been assigned by Him before the world began?

"Now that's not fair! God does not choose who goes to hell from before the world began. All people are going to hell because of Adam and sin. God just chooses which of us He'll save. He only assigns the seating in heaven from before the world began."

So what about people who believe but fall away from the faith?

"That's their own fault. We always have freedom to reject God."

So God alone can cause a person to become a believer; people have no freedom in that. But a person does have the freedom to reject God?


So that means regarding those that fall away that God gives saving faith to some people, but He didn't provide them with the ability to persevere in the faith until the end. They relapse due to their own fault, and God's okay with that. He just lets them go. But He knew they were going to relapse, because He didn't plan for them to make it to the end in the first place. So why did He give them faith in the first place?

"It's a mystery."

Indeed. You said a mouthful. Maybe just so He could use them to help other people come to the faith, or something like that?

"Who knows. God can do what He likes. He's wiser than us."

I see. So unless God forces a person to believe, they will never believe. And if a person believes by God's power, they can still reject that, right?

"Right, except God doesn't force anyone. He just makes the unwilling willing."

What's the difference?

"To be forced is to do something against your will. God doesn't do that. He just changes our will entirely."

Really. You have a dazzling intellect.

"Wait till I get going! Mankind, due to sin, is an enemy of God, unable to receive the things of the Spirit. His will is at enmity with God. Not only is his will inclined to not believe in God, but it is hostile to God in spiritual matters. No human being could possibly believe in God, because deep inside he doesn't even like God! So God, through the Word and Sacraments, has to come upon a person and renew his will! Then a person can believe - no, wait -- then a person DOES believe! Fantastic, isn't it!"

It's really something. But tell me, if man's only hope is for God to fix his will so that he doesn't shluff off from Christ and end up in hell, why doesn't God just do that for everyone? If that's the only way, then why wouldn't God do this for everyone? Doesn't He want everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth?

"Yes, He does, but you forget that we have freedom to reject God."

Actually, no I didn't forget. According to your theory everyone is born rejecting God. It is God alone who changes that rejection into belief. He does this, according to you, based on a predetermined cosmic plan of election, in which God determined before a single human being existed which would end up saved out of all those destined for hell. And this plan is not changed on the fly, but is fulfilled according to God's purpose precisely. Ultimately if I am saved, God gets the credit for putting me on His list before any human being ever existed. And if I am not saved it is because God refrained from changing my will toward faith and causing me to remain steadfast until the end. Sure there is initial blame for man's condemnation with man (though maybe I'll ask you about that another time, since it doesn't seem fair to write off everyone just because their father sinned...), but since only God can save us, don't you think it would be great if He would?

"You are going beyond Scripture here. God's will is a mystery. He wants to save everyone, but doesn't. He doesn't have to explain it further."

That's not very nice. It makes God look like He doesn't care, but that maybe He's just using us as some kind of plaything. You don't believe in Limited Atonement, do you?

"Oh goodness, no! Yuck! We believe Christ died for the salvation from sin for all people, both those going to heaven and those going to hell."

But the only way for a person to be saved through Christ is if God wills it from eternity.

"You're taking it out of order again. We don't talk about that, except to a believer who needs to be comforted with a greater sense of security that he or she is going to heaven. It's more pastoral that way."

Pastoral? What's pastoral about taking something you believe to be absolute truth and hiding it from your parishioners, and only sharing it when they are emotionally vulnerable and more succeptible to believe whatever makes them feel better. Is that really what you call being pasTORal?

"That's not nice. I think you're putting the worst construction on that."

Am I?

"Yes. You just don't believe the Bible. All of this is from the Bible."

Actually, it's not. It's from a bunch of Europeans who came along 1400+ years after the New Testament was written. They couldn't see past the problems of the previous 200 years, so they re-read their Bibles and found all sorts of interesting new teachings that had never been recieved in the Church of Christ. This is one of them.

"You're way out of line now. The Bible is clear that our teaching is the truth."

Then why did we have to wait 1500+ years from the time of Christ for these teachings to be formulated?

"That's be--"

This is going on too long. Let me suggest an older interpretation that has been around as far back as we have records of Christian interpretation of Scripture, and that has always been believed everywhere by all people in the Church: God predestined salvation for the human race from before the foundation of the world. The whole human race is on His planned seating list in heaven. But not everyone is willing to come to the wedding feast. God desires all to come. God makes everything ready. His guests need only accept the invitation. Though He knows ahead of time who will come, versus who will reject Him, He makes the same preparations for all, because He loves all and wants all to come to the same end - blessedenss in His kingdom forever. Everyone has the same chance - He reaches all with the same powerful, grace-giving and illuminating call. But He forces no one, because He does not want slaves or pre-programmed robots, but sons and daughters. And it turns out that it is our own marriage feast that we are invited to enjoy. If we accept God brings us to the blessedness He has prepared. If we reject we will burn with the malcontents. It's that simple.

"Wait - I have one question for you: if a person has freedom to accept or reject (even if God helps him have the greatest possible chance to accept), doesn't that detract from the honor of Christ as our only Savior? Don't I become my own Savior?"

No, because Christ's honor does not lie our cosmic manipulation (as if we were robots to be programmed), but in the restoration of the human race to the family of God. The honor of Christ is that He corrects all that is askew with humanity in His incarnation, that He carries our personal sins to its end in His death, that He defangs death by sanctifying it with His own Life, and grants unto us life in a new creation of which He is the New Adam, and that He sends us the Holy Spirit to incorporate us into this mystery, that we may become one Body with Him, and remain with Him always. His honor is preserved for all time in the salvation established and offered to each person. But since He does not decide for us whether we will be saved or not, He leaves that to you. That's why the Scriptures everywhere appeal to us to do, to act, to believe, to change, to return, to accept. Those words are not clever codes for something else, but mean what they say. To will something, though, is not a work. A slave can will to be free, can will to not obey his master's wicked commands, can will all sorts of things - but never does the will translate in ability or power to the one who is bound. It is entirely free in its choosing, yet impotent and powerless in its ability. It is this way for the unconverted man. The only reward he receives is from willing evil, and the reward is pleasure from sin. Such a spiritually bound person can freely will to do the good, but lacking the power and ontological freedom to accomplish it he remains under the power of sin (i.e. he gets nowhere). Christ comes to the man in this bondage and offers release. In this situation the sinner's will is illumined and enboldened by Christ's powerful and very real offer. In this situation, due to the power and salvation of Christ, if he wills it the slave is set free, and becomes a son of the Kingdom. If we speak this way we give far more honor to Christ than we ever had before. Amen.