1/29/2008

The Purposes of God

How do you address hard questions? As Christians, we all want to be biblical, submitting ourselves to God’s will. But what about issues Scripture doesn't talk about directly?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about, "the purposes of God." If we assume God is absolutely sovereign, it should follow that he intends everything. He intends for certain people to be saved and others not to, he intends for challenges to arise to Christianity and for Christians to answer them, and he intends to communicate himself to humans in a particular way.

This last idea seems important for unraveling hard questions. When we as Christians formulate answers to tough questions, one thing we should ask ourselves is whether our, “answer,” makes sense in light of what God is trying to do in the world. Here are some examples.

We ask the question: Did God create the world using evolution or did he do it in six days?

Whatever you choose, faithfulness requires that your answer should also stand up to this inquiry: How does this method of bringing the world into being fit God’s character and purposes?

If you believe in theistic evolution, what purpose would God have for spending millions of years putting the world together when he COULD have done it instantly? If you believe in six-day creation, why did God allow so much scientific evidence that suggests evolutionary processes when he COULD have made instantaneous creation the only scientifically credible possibility?

We ask the question, is it better to vote for the political candidate who wants to turn my views into law or one who will create an environment that best highlights the differences between a Christian worldview and someone else’s (i.e. does not legislate Judeo-Christian morality)? If you want to vote for the guy who agrees with you, ask yourself; is it God’s intention for Christians to force non-Christians to act like Christians by making it illegal to do otherwise? If you want to vote for the guy who tends to allow people to do what they want, do you think it is God’s intention for us to sit passively by while someone else legally harms innocent people with the direction of their degraded worldview?

We ask the question, should I be open and honest about my sin with others or should I keep those personal matters to myself? If you think vulnerability is the greater virtue, you must answer this: does God intend for you to share deeply personal things that could make sin seem permissible and less serious? If you think staying aloof is better, you must answer this: is it God’s intention for you to seem perfect, causing sinners to possibly despair of ever reaching your, “level”?

I’ve purposely avoided giving my opinions on these questions, because I think there can be a lot of room for debate on these and a million other questions. My concern, instead, is that too many Christians do not ask what God intends to do. In other words, they formulate what they think is, “right,” without asking about God’s purposes, or his desire for how his children should live in this world.

Here’s an example. As far as I can tell, the majority of Christians do not practice animal sacrifices like the Old Testament, because they feel that the coming of Christ did away with the Old Covenant legal system. Fine, I agree with that too. But at the same time, many evangelical Christians agree with the death penalty. Their rational? The legal structure of the Old Covenant! Instead of asking what God’s intent for the justice system is in our day and age, I believe many of them tend to simply agree with a particular political party and then look for any Biblical rational they can find.

But what does God intend for Christians in the New Covenant world? As far as I can see, here are some of his key and clearly stated principles:
-The government (be it religious or heathen or secular) has been given authority by God to maintain order.
-Christians are to proclaim that ALL have sinned, ALL fall short of the glory of God, and ALL must obtain salvation by faith alone in the person and salvific work of Jesus Christ.
-Christians must evangelize to every tribe and tongue and nation, seeking to bring as many as possible to Christ.

In other words, I do not think Christians should support the death penalty. Nothing about God’s purposes for us in the New Covenant environment seem to allow that. Instead, we should advocate for life sentences, so that criminals have the greatest opportunity to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. After all, the proclamation of the gospel is our PRIMARY purpose in this world! To that end, we should be seeking opportunities to witness to those criminals, to let them know that Christ can cleanse them of all their sin in the same way that he has done for us!

So, my call to you is to challenge yourself in this area. Seek to answer hard questions in a way that is consistent with the character and purposes of God, so that our submission goes beyond submission to God’s RULES and toward God’s DESIRES for the weay we live our lives.

Note to fellow Seminary geeks: I'm working on being a bit more accessible in my posts, since I have intelligent but non-geeky friends who read this blog, but this idea of aligning ethical structure with God's purposes in the redemptive-historical drama has, I think, significant hermeneutical implications. The whole concept of submission to the authority of God is allowed to go beyond the LEGAL structure of the Bible and moves into an entire PHILOSOPHICAL framework of God's purposes for his creation. Of course, Scripture is still the inerrant centerpiece of that framework, proclaiming the salvatory act of Christ as the most necessarily important action in all of created history. However, this perspective allows us to also search for creative ways of submitting all areas of life to the King, even those areas not directly spoken to in Scripture. That's a big deal for topics like ethics, politics, proactive social services, and the goals for apologetic or interfaith dialogue groups.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I guess I am one of your non-geeky friends who basically got lost in the last paragraph. I guess I know what you are saying otherwise, as always am I thinking.