Why Can’t We Remember God’s Power?

I was just reading the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s state of humility in the book of Daniel and wanted to write some brief thoughts about his remarkable arch of pride, humility, and restored exaltation.

To recap the story of Daniel prior to my thoughts; when Babylon besieged Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and exiled the Jews to Babylon he took several young men of good learning to be trained in Babylonian culture. Daniel was one of these chosen few. God gave Daniel favor in the sight of the Babylonians and he was able to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar when none of the king’s magicians and enchanters was able to. Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to ruler over the whole province of Babylon and he was made chief prefect over all the wise men (D. 2:48). Daniel then requested that Nebuchadnezzar promote his three friends Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon as well.

Here’s where Nebuchadnezzar’s life-arch starts to get crazy. After he’s promoted Daniel & Co. he decides that he’s going to create an image of gold (or a colossal chocolate bunny for us VeggieTales fans) that everybody must bow down and worship. As many of you are familiar with, the fab three Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refuse to do this and Nebuchadnezzar throws them into the fiery furnace that he’s turned up extra high for them (so high it killed the people he sent to toss them in!). After standing strong against idol worship their lives are spared and they are seen alive in the furnace with a fourth figure (thought to be either an appearance of Christ pre-incarnation or an angel), and so they walk out completely unscathed. What does Nebuchadnezzar say about this?
He says:

Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” – Daniel 3:28-29

After this he promoted the trio again in the province of Babylon.

So it sure seems like at this point that Nebuchadnezzar should know how awesomely powerful and in control of all things God is. After all, at this point in his life he has seen many miraculous things that he credited correctly to the God of the Hebrews and acknowledged His majesty verbally. Sounds good right? He even proclaims the “signs and wonders” God has performed for him by saying: “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” – D. 4:3

After this, Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream which struck fear in his heart. Instead of going to Daniel first (I imagine Daniel stroking his cat and saying “Why didn’t you come to me first? I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee..”), he went back to his gaggle of charlatans and didn’t get an answer. He finally went back to Daniel and Daniel was not happy to tell him the interpretation. The dream basically says that Nebuchadnezzar will be cut down and lose his kingdom and his sanity if he continues to sin and oppress people. The dream is a big “if,” in which if Nebuchadnezzar refuses to rule in the way that God is instructing him to that his kingdom will be taken away and if not then God will not have to teach him humility in that way.

Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar did not listen and a year later goes out one night on his roof and was feeling prideful of all his accomplishments. He said “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Way to word your sentence to be extra-prideful and dishonoring to God! Daniel says that while the words were still in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth the kingdom had been taken away from him and he had been driven insane. He was driven away from civilization and ate grass, and let his hair and nails grow crazy long. That must have been quite the sight for all the mocking school kids!

After God’s appointed time had ended Nebuchadnezzar looked up to the sky and his reason was restored, and along with it his kingdom. He praised God whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” and says that “now I praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (D – 4:37)

Now to the question of the title: why can’t we remember God’s power? Why is this so difficult for us to keep in mind? Nebuchadnezzar clearly struggled to keep God at the center of his life and work and God tore down everything he had to make him realize who was really in control.

Many of us are like Nebuchadnezzar even though we don’t rule the predominant kingdom in the whole world. “We have seen his glory” as John 1:14 says, and we do know Him and are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Nebuchadnezzar was certainly without excuse as he saw sign and wonders beyond what many of us have ever seen. He surrounded himself with believers who knew the truth in top positions, but that didn’t make his own ways righteous. God called him out specifically for sinning and not showing mercy to the oppressed. God gave him a warning and a chance to turn his life around, but he refused and instead touted himself as responsible for all his accomplishments.

When we do not acknowledge God as the author of all good and the sole author of the story of our lives and humanity and give ourselves credit, we are forgetting who’s really in charge; who is really king over the everlasting kingdom. We want to be the accomplished king of our lives, but if we do not practice righteousness and humility in keeping what God has allowed us to steward, then He will have to humble us and return us to Him as He did with the most important ruler of that time.

Let us not be like Nebuchadnezzar and clearly perceive the glory and power that God has, the control that He has over the world, and give ourselves more credit than Him. Remember these words of Nebuchadnezzar’s, lest God need to bring you down to humility as well:

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and He does what He wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can hold back His hand
or say to Him, “What have You done?” – Daniel 4:35

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God’s Love is NOT Reckless

My wife wrote this post on Facebook and I wanted to share it with everyone following my blog because I think this is an exceedingly important issue. Here’s what she had to say:

“God’s love is NOT reckless. Let me explain why.

First, I want to preface this by saying that I do not normally attack worship songs and I tend to give a lot of popular songs poetic license because I like the way they sound and they have meaning for me. The song “reckless love” IS a really good song and I like it…except for the title and intended takeaway message of it. Poetic license is one thing, lying about the character of God is another.

Cory Asbury, the writer of the song “Reckless Love” states that God’s love is reckless because “He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.”

The definition of reckless that most people use to argue for this song is from the Oxford dictionary which defines reckless as “(of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.”

First of all, God does not have “off chance” in His vocabulary. Before we take a step, God knows it. Psalm 139:4 states, “even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Even the hairs on our head are numbered (Luke 12:7). God knows everything we have done and will ever do and He has ALWAYS known it. God doesn’t give Himself away hoping to change our minds or our path in life; God already knows our path. Claiming that God does anything on a whim, not knowing the actions or hoping for a different result is like a writer writing a book and not knowing what he’s written down. It’s impossible. But that’s the BEAUTY of our relationship with God. He knows every single sin we have committed and will commit. He knows our hearts, He knows how broken we are. Before we were even in the womb, God knew us (Jeremiah 1:5). But He still made us. He still chose us. He still wants us. He still loves us. When you act or claim that you can surprise God by your actions, you’re promoting your status as a human and demoting His status as God and therefore undermining what Jesus did on the cross. Which is my second point.

God thinks and cares about the consequences of all His actions. Do you think God didn’t care about the consequence of sending His one and only Son to die on the cross? Do you think Jesus didn’t care about the consequence of being crucified? Jesus understood and cared about the consequences very well. He cared so much that right before they came for Him, He prayed for God to take it from Him if possible, but Thy will be done (Matthew 26:39). Jesus KNEW what it would cost for Him to save us. Jesus cared and frankly, He didn’t want to do it if He didn’t have to. But Jesus also knew the consequence of NOT going to the cross. He knew the consequences of all of our sins. He knew that without His death, we would never find life. And so knowing ALL the options and ALL the consequences, Jesus CHOSE to die for us. It wasn’t on the off chance that it would save us. It wasn’t on the off chance that people would come to Him. He knew. When you use this definition and claim that Jesus didn’t care about going to the cross you’re truly missing out on the pain and torture of being crucified and missing out on the gravity and the heaviness of what He did for you.

Furthermore, God is a perfect God. He is Prince of Peace. He is Sovereign. When I think of reckless love, I honestly picture Liam Neeson in “Taken”. Liam Neeson’s character is a trained killer, a trained security guard, a trained protector. When his daughter gets taken, he basically flips over all of Paris to find her. He doesn’t care who he has to kill in the process or who he has to beat up or the bridges he has to jump off of or how much money it costs. He just DOES it. Now some of you might be thinking, well yes Aly, this is a beautiful picture of the love of God. But it’s not. God does not kill other people to get to you. God does not mistreat nature, people, or any of His creation just to get to you. Why? Because we are ALL equal in God’s eyes. God is so careful with all of our hearts and He would never kill or mistreat another person just to get to you because He wants you, He wants the people “standing in His way”, He wants the people watching, He wants it ALL. There is no collateral damage when it comes to the love of God because the love of God is PERFECT. Sure, God can use the death of someone or the pain of someone to get to you. God will USE the trouble in your life to get your attention but He would never hurt or punish someone else just to teach you a lesson. The enemy, however, is like Liam Neeson. The enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The more people he can take down in the process, the better. The enemy wants to kill other people and hurt other people in order to kill and hurt you. The enemy is reckless. The enemy is chaos. God is perfect. God is peace.

I considered not writing this because of the command in 2 Timothy 2:16 “avoid irreverent babble for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness”. But the reason I still chose to post this is because our talk and our vocabulary as Christians effects nonbelievers. In my life, I have had trouble. I have given my heart and my time and my body to people who have been reckless to me. What did I receive in return? Pain, heartbreak, and betrayal. There’s nothing positive about being reckless. I am very careful about who I trust my heart with because most people will be reckless with it and not take proper care of it. Now if I were a nonbeliever and I heard that Christians were calling God’s love reckless, and then telling me to give my LIFE, my EVERYTHING, to Him, I would not do it. I would not want to entrust everything I am to another “person” who is reckless and careless with it. I would run the other way. I don’t need someone else to hurt me, I don’t need to give someone else that kind of control if they’re not going to take care of it. I’ll live life on my own, thanks. But that’s not God. Jesus says, those who die for me will find life. God is a “Good Good Father.” He will not let me down. He will not hurt me. He will heal me. The use of the phrase “Reckless Love” I fear is confusing and deterring nonbelievers.

That being said, I like the rest of the song. I like acknowledging that God is so good and so kind to me. I know I could never deserve or earn His love. And I know He will not stop pursuing me. But you wanna know what that is? It’s RELENTLESS. Perfectly planned, perfectly unstoppable. So if you’re sitting here thinking, well gee thanks Aly, NOW what am I going to listen to? Check out this song.”

What we sing in worship to God is going to have an affect on on how we view God Himself. This song could have the potential to infect believer’s understanding of who God is for several generations if it keeps getting passed down, as many worship standards do. Distortions of God’s character and gospel are evil and those who who preach a different gospel are “accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

This is serious, deadly business. 

bethel-music-worshipThe song “Reckless Love” comes from Bethel, which is a heretical church that teaches the gospel as being empowerment to perform miracles, and that Jesus was not God in His time on earth but God becoming fully and only human to model a Christian life of miracle performing for us. This is false teaching and not in accord with a Scriptural understanding of the gospel or who Christ is.

Bill Johnson, Bethel’s lead pastor, is not preaching the gospel or even Christ as God in the flesh. In fact, he has said that if Christ had been God in the flesh that he would not be compelled to follow Him. Are you kidding me? As I said, this is serious business and it’s not just the unbiblical things they do, like grave sucking, fake “glory clouds,” and numerous false prophecies. This is attacking the very nature of Christ and the gospel itself. Johnson is telling his followers they are now perfectly holy and there is no need for sanctification, but the Bible says that if you tell yourself you are without sin that you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you (1 John 1:8). He is teaching that Jesus was not completely good since He was not God (Jesus says there is no one good but God alone – Mark 10:18). Which means that Jesus’s death wouldn’t have been the spotless sacrificial death of the Lamb needed to atone for sins, so under Bethel theology Christ’s death doesn’t really atone for anything.

Pastor Gabriel Hughes says this (emphasis by me):

When you hear the word “gospel” mentioned at Bethel Church, know that it is a different gospel they’re talking about. This filters into all of their ministries. The “Jesus” in the name “Jesus Culture” is not the Jesus of the Bible. When you listen to their worship songs, you might hear all the right Christian words, but you are not praising God with them because they are writing and singing about a different Jesus.”

Using terms that are without Scriptural basis to describe God’s love like “reckless” are par for the course for the accursed church of Bethel. This should have been a warning to those in the church who understand God’s character and love that something was amiss. Instead we sing the new song with zeal and even begin describing God’s love in normal conversation as “reckless.” What Bethel is singing about is not God and is not Christianity, even though it sounds nice.

I encourage everyone reading this to talk to your pastors and express your concern about letting the heretical Bethel continue to poison the understanding people have of God and the gospel and to speak out against this false teaching. The Bereans checked what Paul told them against Scripture and are called noble for doing so, and many of them came to Christ (Acts 17:11-12 NIV). We need to be careful to check that what we are singing or teaching does not twist or distort God because this is a thing of the enemy.

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Matthew 24:43-44

You can read more about Bethel’s heretical teachings here.

 

A Sad Face is Good for the Heart

It is better to go to a house of mourning 18817518_1768938016454910_1406252783_o
than to go to a house of feasting,
since that is the end of all mankind,
and the living should take it to heart.
Grief is better than laughter,
for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.
The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.
                                        – Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

I would be willing to bet that these words wouldn’t go over very well with virtually any audience at any point in time. Thousands of years of philosophy and religion has been spent on trying to solve the perennial “How can I achieve happiness?” question. How completely counter-intuitive and counter-cultural is it to say that funerals and grief is ultimately “better” than laughter and parties?

Death is the great equalizer of mankind. No matter what station in life you have or what legacy you may leave, you will end the same way as all eventually must. Death is the clock running down that is hung over you. Not only that, but there is no assurance of what time you have left. You may have 40 years or 40 minutes left.

The heart of every man knows this deep down, but the majority of people live the “teenage” life. The life that assumes there will always be a tomorrow. The life that believes you are invincible and that you must have plenty of time left before you get decrepit and ready to go. The fact is that you just don’t know if that’s the case or not. Every day is a day longer where you beat the insurmountable probability that you shouldn’t even be alive to enjoy it.

Solomon was King of Israel after his father David. Solomon famously was the wisest and richest king in world history, and he pursued pleasure more heedlessly than anyone else could. Solomon is really history’s ultimate hedonist and libertine. “Caligula would have blushed.” In Ecclesiastes 2 he details his journey of pleasure pursuing.  He tries everything under the sun. He increased his achievements by building magnificent buildings, he had so many slaves that he didn’t have to do any of the work, he had more gold and silver than any other single human in history, he had so many concubines that he couldn’t get around to them all if he tried. He had all the praise, wealth, sex, and ease of life that your typical human ever craves. “All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse any pleasure..”
Solomon had everything that humans think would make them happy. What did all these earthly delights bring him?

“When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11

So there you have it. The man most likely to be ensured happiness by worldly standards couldn’t reach happiness that way.

If doing things that makes us happy can’t bring us happiness, what can make us happy? 

Solomon’s answer to this question is as radical as it gets. Instead of seeking happiness in things that make you happy, you should consistently consider things that bring sorrow.

Why would this ultimately lead to true happiness? Because it leads us closer to God.

Solomon points out in 5:20 that the things that we find pleasure in are all gifts of God, especially when you consider these things make it harder for us to consider the days of our life. Pleasure or happiness as we understand it is actually the great barrier in the way of us wanting God more. That makes it all the more graceful and incredible that God gives us as much to delight in as He does.

Going back to the first quoted passage, Solomon says that “when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.” When you obtain more understanding of God by considering the full scope of life, it brings a more grateful and balanced view that ends in the greater joy of knowing God better. Wisdom is understanding that it is God who is completely in control, not you. Wisdom is letting go of the feeling that all the things you may be passionate about are important, and that what matters to God is the relationship between Him and you.

It may take a lot of sad times and days for us to learn this wisdom in our deepest hearts, but a sad face won’t be sad forever. In 8:1, Solomon says that “A man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed.” It is wisdom, the understanding that the things of God are what is not futile, that leads to a change.

If you’re in a time of sadness, do not despair! This is the time that God can speak to you and impart a new perspective of wisdom that may bring gladness to your heart. A sad face is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a time and season for everything under heaven, and the Lord works in everyone in His own time. The good news is that there is great reason to find joy in knowing that you are loved beyond all understanding, and that Christ died so that you could be made guiltless before Him and adopted into His family. This should not be forgotten.

Enjoy what God has given you to enjoy in this life, but do it with the understanding that it is a gift that should not be taken for granted or thought of as guaranteed.

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.” –  G. K. Chesterton

 

Thanks to one of my favorite bands, The Choir, for inspiring this post.
“A sad face is good for the heart
Maybe just now, I don’t understand
A sad face is good for the heart of a man
A sad face is good for the heart
It’s alright, you don’t have to smile”
The Choir – Sad Face

 

Is a Promise Actually Self-Deception?

Last night I watched Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane again as I’m wont to do, this timeCitizen-Kane-Declaration-of-Principles.jpg showing it to my youngest sister for the first time. Every time I see the film again I notice things about it that I hadn’t caught completely before. The thing that really stuck out to me this time was the running motif in the plot of promises. Near the beginning of the film, there’s a scene where Charles Kane, Jedediah Leland (his closest friend), and Mr. Bernstein (a close associate) are discussing the first newspaper they’re unleashing on New York the next day. Kane keeps refining what he wants on the front page, and ultimately decides to change it one last time. This time, he’s going to feature a “Declaration of Principles” that will outline his promises to the people of New York. Leland doesn’t trust Kane to actually keep these promises, so he asks to keep the original copy of the Declaration because he has a hunch it may “turn out to be something pretty important.”

His hunch is right, as Kane’s principles go off the deep end (to say the least) throughout the film. He abuses his power as a news tycoon to encourage wars and promote his own activities and interests, in comparison to his earnest and ambitious start where he boldly fought for truth. Mr. Bernstein warned Kane that “You don’t want to make any promises you don’t want to keep” as Kane simply retorted that “These will be kept.”

Kane continues to make promises that he breaks, and forsakes making any further ones (as he does in his gubernatorial campaign). He breaks his marriage vows to Emily by committing adultery with Susan Alexander. He breaks his promise to be honest to the people in his papers. His inability to keep his promises becomes a running joke with his friends. Kane’s word eventually means nothing, as Leland had already suspected would be the case.

Promises are a tricky business. People love to make them all the time, to the point that it becomes casual and expected. Have you ever heard two lovers talking to each other? It’s not long before they start making promises. I’ll always love you…. I’ll never leave you, etc.
Parents make promises to their children to appease them that they know they can’t really keep. In Jon Favreau’s Chef the main character promises his son that he’ll take him to New Orleans next month, but one can easily tell he has no intention to do so.
People make promises to their friends (or people they don’t like), that they know deep down somewhere, even with the best of intentions, are most likely to ever happen.

Soren Kierkegaard said that “A no does not hide anything, but a yes very easily becomes an illusion, a self-deception, which of all difficulties is perhaps the most difficult to overcome.” No may be difficult, but it is true and does not obscure your real intentions or abilities. I love how Kierkegaard says that yes can so easily slip into a self deception or illusion. Saying yes to someone and disappointing them is rude and can have devastating effect based on the context, but above all saying yes begins as a self deception. You’re tricking yourself, contradicting what you know you’re capable of and what your truest principles are. You think you can hold the promise this time, but you know deep down it’s not going to happen.

We see all around us that one of the central deceptions humankind regularly employs is to make a promise. We see promises now as nonbinding statements of intention that can be reneged if we change our feelings on the matter, or if the timing just doesn’t seem right, or if it’s just to much of a hassle for us. God on the other hand, takes promises with the utmost seriousness. He always keeps His promises. “He who promised is faithful” according to the author of Hebrews (10:23). The Bible proclaims God’s faithfulness in superlative terms. “Your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 36:5); “your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps 119:90); “great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:23).

“How does God’s faithfulness show itself? By his unfailing fulfillment of his promises. He is a covenant-keeping God; he never fails those who trust his word.”
– J.I. Packer, Knowing God

God does not make promise like we do. We fail to keep our word, as God never fails to keep his. We constantly deceive, while God never deceives.

“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
– Numbers 23:19

We think of some sins as being lesser than others, not as bad. As long as you’re not killing someone or sleeping with someone’s wife or doing drugs or something you’re just fine.
That’s not how God views it at all though.
As Jesus preached on the mount, he told the crowd to “let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matt 5:37).
Saying yes or no and not really meaning it is deception, and what does the enemy do best? Deceive. Deceiving others and yourself is partaking in the nature of the evil one.

Learn how to control your yes and no. Whether it’s meeting up to grab some coffee sometime or taking someone in marriage, stand behind your yes. If you’re going to say it make every effort to make sure you will actually go through with it. If it’s no, tell the other person with the compassion Christ told others when he had to say no (Mk 5:19). Remember to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

It is not our role or place to try to please everyone and destroy our word and soul in the process.

A false promise can be a self-deception, but it will always be an attack on what is good and true. Solomon says in Proverbs that “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (12:22).

“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.” – Zechariah 8:16

Garrett’s Q&A: Shouldn’t God’s Power Defy Logic?

Question:
 Hello Garrett,
I have yet again been faced by the logic of proving that omnipotence can exist without being caught up in the typical paradox of “Can God create a rock that even He can’t lift?” and I have posed the Aquinas response which is that it is logically absurd for an omnipotent being to create something even He can’t lift. However, I feel that the question still arises: Why can’t an omnipotent being, by virtue of his omnipotence, defy his own logic? Even if that logic is in His nature, shouldn’t an omnipotent being be able to defy His own nature? I am having a hard time seeing how the Aquinas argument can maintain itself from the sheer implication of what omnipotence means. If I can’t prove omnipotence exists,then it is hard for me to go out and argue against those who argue that such omnipotence is impossible. It’s a pressing question for me.

Thanks,
Del
USA

Garrett Cash’s response: 

sobighecantliftit
It’s not too big for me to lift!


Great question, Del.
Typically, the question that you pose is easily answerable by the Aquinas response which you provide. This is satisfying for me, but it’s certainly worth asking: “Is it possible for something to be so powerful that it can operate outside of logic?”
The short answer to this is no. Another way you could create the dilemma is by asking if God could create a married bachelor. Or create a square circle. All of these things are logically absurd. The same could be asked even of blasphemous things. Could God create another God and fall down and worship it? Could God commit adultery? These things are all impossible for God because they contradict His very nature.

To return to logical absurdities. I think what is going on here is a misunderstanding of omnipotence. Being all powerful does not and should not mean you possess the ability to circumvent logic. Logical impossibilities are typically exempted from omnipotence. I think Dr. William Lane Craig makes a great point when he said this:
“Something that is logically impossible isn’t really a thing at all, when you think about it. It is not as though there is some “thing” that God can’t do. Those are just contradictory combinations of words, and there is no such thing as a round square or a stone too heavy for God to lift.”

This is a great point. He goes on to say in this discussion that omnipotence should not be thought of a power that allows one to commit logically impossible actions. Instead, he says, omnipotence should be defined as the ability to actualize any state of affairs which is logically possible for anyone in that state of affairs to bring about. He gives some examples which are worth quoting at length.

“How does this apply to some of these paradoxes of omnipotence? No one can actualize a state of affairs which consists of an all-powerful being’s inability to lift a stone. That is impossible. No one can actualize the state of affairs of an omnipotent being’s being incapable of lifting a stone. So that would mean that omnipotence would not require God to be able to create a stone too heavy for him to lift. That would not fall within the scope of omnipotence. No one can actualize the state of affairs of a morally perfect being’s sinning. It is logically impossible for a morally perfect being to sin. So no one can actualize the state of affairs of a morally perfect being’s committing a sin. So that would not fall within the scope of omnipotence.”

Dr. Craig also points out that Rene Descartes actually took the radical view that all laws are arbitrary, and that God could have made any laws that he wanted. This is view is a serious slippery slope into some hefty absurdities, and it makes all definitions pointless. If God can change a triangle, for instance, then it isn’t a triangle anymore. This view is certainly to be avoided.

What Dr. Craig doesn’t say as clearly that I would point out, is that God Himself is logic! So these examples where God is doing something contrary to His own morally perfect nature is just as illogical as His creating paradoxical objects. You mention that logic is “in His nature,” as if it is an additional attribute He happens to have but is capable of casting of when He needs to. This is not the case. Logic itself is simply a piece of God that we’re aware of, since God is Logic itself.

To return to the main point and conclude, it seems like your biggest hang up is that the definition of omnipotence should include the ability to overcome logic. As Dr. Craig argues, I think that this is a misunderstanding of how omnipotence works. Omnipotence is the ability to actualize any possible state of affairs which is logically possible for anyone in that state of affairs to bring about. Under this much more sensible definition, these paradoxical issues pose no threat to the all powerful nature of the Creator.

Thanks for the question Del!
You can read more at the link below, which gives Dr. Craig’s full version of his argument, along with a superb Q&A and a beautiful practical application of the doctrine of God’s omnipotence to our lives.

Love and mercy in Christ,
Garrett

Dr. Craig’s full version of the argument:  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s3-17#ixzz41zq4b8dw

Being More Like Charlie Brown: Finding Love in Complete Hopelessness

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“Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.” – Charlie Brown

Christmas isn’t always “the most wonderful time of the year.” In fact, for many it can be perhaps the most difficult time of year. It can remind you of loved ones you’ve lost, it can remind you of your lack of love, it can accentuate your poverty, it can frustrate you with its barren commercialism, it can show you how much you hate your job, it signals another year in which you failed to accomplish your goals, and it can make you feel like you’re isolated. Sometimes it can be disappointment in society, but generally it’s disappointment in yourself. You don’t feel the way you think you’re supposed to feel. Isn’t Christmas supposed to be good, or magical? Shouldn’t it make me happy despite how poorly my life is going?

If this is how you feel about the coming of Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas was made for you. If not, that’s wonderful! Praise God! But there’s still a lot you can learn from this unassuming little TV special from 1965.

There’s many articles on the internet that examine the fascinating history of the special. There will be even more in the next few days as the special celebrates its 50th anniversary! To summarize, it was produced on a shoestring budget with little to no expectation of it actually succeeding. It was completed ten days before it was due to be aired, and there was nary a person that thought it was a winner. As we know, they all turned out to be wrong, and now 50 years later the special is a staple of the American consciousness. It solidified the Peanuts gang as a worldwide phenomenon, used real child actors for the first time in animation, was an introduction to real jazz music for many, and its message and style spoke so deeply that for thousands of people it is still an annual tradition.

–  What makes the special so, well, special? And how does it speak to issues in my life? 

If you found yourself relating to that opening paragraph, you’ll probably find this opening sentence of the special remarkably accurate.

“Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy.
I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.
I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess.
I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.
I always end up feeling depressed.” – Charlie Brown

philosophybrownTo have the opening line to what is assumably a show geared towards children deal so directly with themes of depression and anxiety in its very first piece of dialogue is nothing short of remarkable. The scene of the show is very clearly set at the get-go. It’s Christmas time. The kids and Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy are all enjoying the onset of the season. They’re skating around the frozen pond with abandonment singing the lyrically joyful “Christmas Time is Here.” Charlie Brown and Linus take a walk to their favorite philosophizing wall (it’s really the Peanuts version of the ancient Greek Agora), and Charlie Brown poignantly confesses his discontent with the supposed season of cheer.

Charlie Brown is quickly rebuked by Linus, who complains that Charlie is the only person he knows “who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” Unfortunately, Linus mistakenly emphasizes Charlie Brown’s isolation by agreeing with his manipulative sister Lucy’s judgment: “Of all the Charlie Brown’s in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest.” Just like every human being, Linus is no perfect example. He makes an enormous mistake here. He could have carefully and thoughtfully addressed Charlie Brown’s concerns with Christmas, but instead he foolishly dismisses the issues with an ill-conceived putdown. While we see later that Linus is capable of intellectualizing his faith, he disappoints when he had a chance to put it into action here.

I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season.
I know nobody likes me.
Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it? –
Charlie Brown

peanutsAfter Linus’s missed opportunity, we see Charlie Brown continue to wax philosophic on his seasonal depression. He checks the mailbox to see if anyone sent him a Christmas card this year. No one has, of course. He eventually seeks out the assistance of the town’s self-made child psychiatrist, Lucy.

After pre-paying for her services, he summarizes his problem for her. She proceeds to imitate the psychiatrists she’s seen on TV by trying to “pin-point” the fear so that they’ll be able to “label it.” She’s not as interested in actually helping out Charlie Brown as she is in feeling pride in her ability to correctly label his fears scientifically. This scene is quite funny since it satirizes the modern urge to correctly “label” an issue, or to point it out, rather than to actually just help when you see a problem. Not to mention that when Lucy finally says she sympathizes with Charlie Brown, she says her depression is due to getting toys or bicycles for Christmas instead of the real estate she really wants. Good grief.

Lucy does have one suggestion for Charlie that he decides to try out. The school needs someone to direct the Christmas play, and what better way to get into the spirit than to “get involved in some real Christmas project”? As Charlie Brown makes his way to the school to direct his play, he discovers that even his own dog and sister have both sold out to the commercialism of Christmas. All Snoopy and Sally want this year is “money, money, money.” This disgusts Charlie Brown and furthers his increasing isolation.

Charlie finally makes it to the school to direct the play, and it goes disastrously. Charlie thinks it’s his inability to do anything right, but it’s really the fault of his crew. His direction is clearly superb, but no one is willing to respect him or stay disciplined. They goof around and complain about their parts or their lines. Charlie is clearly losing the battle, and Lucy reminds him that “Christmas is a big commercial racket” anyway (run by an eastern syndicate, no less). But Charlie is determined for his play to not be commercial. He decides that what they need is a tree, so he takes a break from the play to go find one with Linus, not without being instructed to “do something right for a change” from one of his cast members.

treepicking.pngThe following scene where Charlie Brown chooses the Christmas tree is at the center of the thematic crux of the show. The rest has been a build up to this moment. Charlie Brown has been consistently failing to succeed, and this is his big chance to prove himself to his friends and family. He’s been instructed to get “the biggest” aluminum tree with the brightest pink paint, but his convictions are pulling him elsewhere. To bring some Dante Alighieri into this, Charlie Brown could be seen as the Dante figure (the hero undergoing salvation) here with Linus being his Virgil (guide). They descend into the underworld of the most brash commercialism. The lights are bright and the beauty of the Christmas trees surrounding them are literally hollow and fake. Linus taps the aluminum tree and sarcastically quips:
“This really brings Christmas close to a person.”

Charlie Brown isn’t having any of this, and slowly we see the camera pan over the sea of artificiality to finally rest on the sole wood tree of the lot. “Gee, do they still make wooden Christmas trees?” Linus asks with sincere surprise. The rest of the dialogue is worth quoting:

Charlie: This little green one here seems to need a home.
Linus: I don’t know, Charlie Brown. Remember what Lucy said? This doesn’t seem to fit the modern spirit.
Charlie: I don’t care. We’ll decorate it, and it’ll be just right for our play.
Besides, I think it needs me.

Charlie Brown already understood the real meaning of Christmas right here, simply on a general revelation (an understanding of God from nature). After feeling confused and disillusioned with the commercial nature of the season, Charlie sought truth and meaning in the Christmas season. When no one was willing to support him and all of his friends and family had turned against him, Charlie Brown still made the right choice and saved the lost and helpless. Charlie Brown became a Christ-figure in this scene. He was surrounded by the temptation of not fulfilling the duty he knew he needed to perform deep down, but he triumphantly rescued the real tree from its helpless isolation. He willingly sacrificed the approval of the world he so desired in favor of performing the compassionate action that no one else he knew would be capable of making. Not only was he willing to buy the most undesirable tree, but he saw immense value in it! He didn’t care that it didn’t fit what his friends expected, he knew with the proper care that it would be “just right.”

Besides, I think it needs me.”

I remember being floored by this selfless act of love when I was young and I would obsessively watch this special. In fact, it made me feel horribly convicted even then! I remember thinking to myself: “If it had been me, would I have bought the ugly little tree instead of the bigger beautiful aluminum ones I was pressured to get?” My answer to that was essentially a disappointed “no.” I felt like I would have sacrificed my convictions in favor of worldly approval, which deeply bothered me. Charlie Brown made me feel like it was me who didn’t understand the true meaning of Christmas!

Charlie Brown returns from his greatest moment to these words.

Boy, are you stupid, Charlie Brown.
What kind of a tree is that?
You were supposed to get a good tree. Can’t you even tell a good tree from a poor tree?
I told you he’d goof it up. He’s not the kind you can depend on to do anything right.
You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown.
Completely hopeless.

When you go against the wisdom of the world, the world kicks you down.
This cacophony of lies causes Charlie to seriously doubt his decision. He mistakenly believes he’s once again caused a disaster. He’s gone from his greatest moment of triumph to his darkest all in one fell swoop. He finally bursts out in agonized frustration, begging for an answer.

Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

After being more or less a neutral deterrent for the majority of the episode, Linus speaks up with what he should have said at the very beginning.

Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

PeanutsChristmasWhat follows is without a doubt one of the most transcendent moments in television history, because Linus answers that question with nothing short of perfection. Instead of systematically explaining the reason for Christmas, he tells the story of a boy not too unlike Charlie Brown. A boy who was born into a world where He was more isolated than any person ever has been. The world hated Him, in fact, they attempted to kill Him on multiple occasions! But instead of bringing sadness, He brought great joy and love. This boy is the answer that Charlie Brown is seeking. Not only is He as authentic and uncommercialized as anything can conceivably get, but He saves the isolated and hated from their misery, and brings them the greatest possible joy. He is everything that Charlie Brown is looking for, and more.

Charlie Brown thus receives his special revelation (an understanding of God through the supernatural) of what the Christmas season truly means through hearing the Word of God. Its meaning is a celebration of the birth of the world’s Savior: Jesus Christ the Lord. What Linus recites is Luke 2:8-14, the scene where the angels tell the shepherds of the Messiah’s birth: “And the angel said unto them: ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”
“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Charlie Brown is rejuvenated by this discovery of Christmas’s true meaning, and he sets out into the night to show everybody just how great his little tree can look. He discovers that Snoopy won the first prize in the contest which promised oodles of money, but he refuses to let this lavish commercialism impede him. He takes one of Snoopy’s ornaments and attempts to dress the tree with it. When this causes the tree to completely droop over, he thinks he’s “killed it” and that “everything he touches gets ruined.” He runs away in shame.

When all his friends come back, they find Charlie’s tree and begin to appreciate it. “It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”
They take Snoopy’s first-prize-winning decorations and dress the tree up into a magnificent piece of art. Charlie Brown returns, and is stunned. His friends wish him a Merry Christmas, and they all join together to sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

“I know nobody likes me.
Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasize it?”

This is the point of the holiday season, Charlie Brown. It’s there because of the one person who will always love you even when the world hates you. Just like a little bald boy loved a sad looking tree in the middle of a lot when no one else wanted it, this person completely sacrificed everything out of His deepest love to save the smallest and ugliest trees. He doesn’t want to see you waste away in a lot where you don’t belong, feeling unloved and forgotten. That’s precisely why He was born on that Christmas day long ago, so that He could come down and rescue you from your death: your loneliness and alienation: your fear and anxiety.
In His love, these things are no more.
You’re not completely hopeless after all, Charlie Brown.

 Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!” 

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Thank you so much for reading all the way through this post! It’s a bit longer than I was expecting, but I felt like I needed to make all the points I did. I hope it encourages you to be more like Charlie Brown this season. Not by feeling depressed due to whatever may be going on in your life, but by seeking the answer that will make all of your problems null. Charlie Brown actively seeks answers to the things in life that bother him, and he takes radical action in showing the love for others like him that he seeks for himself. I pray we can be more like that this season.

This is the second post I’ve done surrounding Christmas this month, and I’m planning on doing a few more (my next one I’m planning is about my favorite Christmas book that barely anyone has read). If you have any topics or questions that interest you about Christmas, send them to me, and I might turn my answer to you into a post!

Thanks again for reading, and I pray that this Christmas is one of discovery of true meaning for you.

Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”

A Counterfactual Christmas: God, George Bailey, Scrooge, and Alternative Futures

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As The Beatles once said: Christmas time is here again! That means it’s time to crank the Phil Spector Christmas album and deeply ponder philosophical issues surrounding the direction your measly existence is taking (and whether you can change it or not): putting the “merry” in Merry Christmas, obviously!

I’ve decided to address/consider some of the philosophical/theological questions that may arise around the advent season through a short series on my blog. The first question that we’ll be exploring is:

Does the concept of alternative futures based on possible choices make sense with Christian theology?

When I was a kid, I loved Christmas movies a lot. I would watch just about anything that had people dealing with various struggles around Christmas. Most of the time it was saving Christmas (it apparently needs a lot of saving) or changing someone’s negative opinion of Christmas. There were a few “adult” (i.e. no Mickey Mouse) Christmas movies I would watch that I didn’t feel like I fully understand the point of, but I watched them anyway because I enjoyed aesthetic aspects of them. There are two movies on which my whole opinion has utterly shifted as time has passed: It’s a Wonderful Life and Scrooge.

I loved both movies as a child, but it took time and maturity for their meaning to seep into my soul. Obviously there are a hundred versions of Charles Dickens’ masterful A Christmas Carol (which if you haven’t read yet, you absolutely must this year), but I specifically mention Scrooge because it is the best version, and I will fight you over that.

It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol are both a bit similar when you get down to it. They’re both movies that involve a character being granted a chance to see “what could have been and what could be.” George Bailey is on the verge of committing suicide, and Ebenezer Scrooge leads a meaninglessly greedy existence. Both characters receive a visit from supernatural creatures that reveal what their life choices mean in the grand scheme. Bailey is shown an alternative future where he never existed, while Scrooge is shown the way his choices in life would and could affect the world.

Getting back to the question: does this idea of alternative futures make sense in Christian theology? Depending on your theology, yes!

First of all, we’ll say that God is omniscient. This is a standard attribute that we believe God possesses, but what does it mean to know everything? According to Dr. William Lane Craig, omniscience “is defined in terms of propositional knowledge of knowing only and all truths, but not necessarily having all non-propositional knowledge.” To say that in lay terms, it means that God knows all truths, or facts. There is no true statement that God does not know. For instance, “I am Garrett Cash” is a truth that He knows. But this does not mean He also has all non-propositional knowledge, since that would cause Him to think erroneous and absurd things. Instead of me just being Garrett Cash, now He also thinks that I’m William Lane Craig, or Brian Wilson! Maybe non-propositional knowledge isn’t so bad after all!

Joking aside, having all non-propositional knowledge would certainly be a “negative property,” as Dr. Craig points out. What I do believe that God has, however, is something called middle knowledge. According to Kirk R. MacGregor, middle knowledge is “God’s foreknowledge of all things that would happen in every possible sets of circumstances, both things that are determined to occur by those circumstances and things that are not determined to occur by those circumstances.” If you could read through the philosophy-ese there, you’ll see how this relates to our tales of Christmas!

This is to say that not only does God know all of the things that will happen in the world, but He knows all of the things that could happen! For instance, if you walk into the bookstore you’ll meet someone who’ll end up being your best friend. If you don’t walk into the store, you’ll never meet them and you’ll never be friends. God knows all of the various circumstances that could arise from the decisions you make over the course of your life. These circumstances that God has knowledge of are called counterfactuals in philosophy. To get technical, counterfactuals “refer to conditional propositions in the subjunctive mood and assume the following form: if something were the case (when in fact it may or may not be the case), then something else would be the case. This encompasses not only statements that are contrary to fact, but also true conditionals in the subjunctive mood.”

potstatNow are you seeing how this relates to the stories? A large portion of both It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol focus on what could have been and what could be. In the former, we see a dystopic present world that exists only in the possible world where George Bailey was never born. In the latter, Ebenezer Scrooge revisits the past and the present through the new lenses of his ghostly companions, and eventually sees the possible world where he perseveres in his avarice. These are all glimpses of counterfactuals that they are permitted to see. These things would be true under certain circumstances (e.g. George Bailey not being born, or Scrooge being greedy), but under other circumstances they become false.

Are there any examples from Scripture that would attest to this doctrine of middle knowledge? One of the most frequently cited passages, that I greatly enjoy, comes from 1 Samuel 23:6-13:

 “Abiathar son of Ahimelech fled to David at Keilah, and he brought an ephod with him.When it was reported to Saul that David had gone to Keilah, he said, ‘God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself by entering a town with barred gates.’ Then Saul summoned all the troops to go to war at Keilah and besiege David and his men. When David learned that Saul was plotting evil against him, he said to Abiathar the priest, ‘Bring the ephod.’ Then David said, ‘Lord God of Israel, Your servant has heard that Saul intends to come to Keilah and destroy the town because of me. 11 Will the citizens of Keilah hand me over to him? Will Saul come down as Your servant has heard? Lord God of Israel, please tell Your servant.’ The Lord answered, ‘He will come down.’ Then David asked, ‘Will the citizens of Keilah hand me and my men over to Saul?’ ‘They will,’ the Lord responded. So David and his men, numbering about 600, left Keilah at once and moved from place to place. When it was reported to Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, he called off the expedition.”

Dr. Craig comments on this passage in his book The Only Wise God:
“This story was understood to show that God knew that if David were to remain at Keilah, then Saul would come to get him, and that if Saul were to come get David, then the men of the city would hand him over. For if God’s answers through the ephod are taken as simple foreknowledge, we must conclude that his answers were false, since what was predicted did not happen. But if the answers are understood as implications of what would happen under certain circumstances, then they were true and serve as proof of God’s middle knowledge.”

I had always assumed that God has middle knowledge just from my general conception of His sovereignty, and also from, you guessed it, movies like It’s a Wonderful Life! It only makes sense that God would know what would happen to you given any circumstances He places you in, considering His divine foreknowledge. What gets more contentious than simply affirming middle knowledge is the way it gets applied to the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Far from being a pointless debate, the implications of God’s middle knowledge in relation to this issue are precisely what gives these stories so much of their power and meaning for me! 

ghost_of_christmasA Christmas Carol is really the best example to use here. Here’s two questions that determine the way you view the situation theologically:

1. When Scrooge sees the future of his own making, is he seeing a future that is not actually possible because God had already predestined Scrooge to have a change of heart? This would mean that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is simply showing Scrooge an illusory future intended to frighten Scrooge into his predetermined fate where the real future will take place. This view would be theological fatalism.
Or:…
2. Is Scrooge seeing a future that is actually possible and will take place if he decides not to change his heart? That means that he is still capable of freely choosing whether or not he will live in such a way that the dark future shown to him will take place, or he can freely decide against that.

This is not to say in option two that God is not aware of which one Scrooge will actually pick (this position is called open theism). Luis de Molina, the 16th century Spanish theologian that founded the concept of middle knowledge, would have said that God foreknew which path Scrooge would take. In fact, God predestined Scrooge to be in the certain circumstances he was in so that he could bring about the effect that God wished for him to have.

Does this idea affirm theological fatalism, that because God knew this and predestined it, that Scrooge’s becoming a new man wasn’t a free act? Quite the opposite! Because of God’s middle knowledge, He was able to give Scrooge an absolutely free choice, knowing for certain which one he would actually choose. This doesn’t mean that Scrooge couldn’t have chosen otherwise; the nightmare of a future that Scrooge saw wasn’t an illusion! That was an entirely possible reality! For instance, I could choose to run out in front of traffic today and die. This option is entirely available and I am fully capable of carrying it out. Nothing is stopping me. But will I do it? No! Just because I know I won’t choose a certain circumstance doesn’t mean I don’t possess the free will to carry it out if I wanted to.

What this all means in the spirit of Christmas is what the stories embody. You have the power to make the right choice, and to change the future to be the one you will be proud of. Saying things such as: “I guess my *insert life shortcoming here* was meant to be” doesn’t make any sense on this view. You don’t have to be Scrooge: grouchy and dissatisfied with life. You don’t have to be like George Bailey either: deeply disappointed and dissatisfied with life. Each of them had remarkable blessings despite their personal hardships.

As Christmas comes around this year, let’s try not to grumble about all of our “first world problems” and other varying struggles of no consequence. Let’s also not let the big stressors like Mr. Potter or a history of broken relationships make our lives crippled and destitute. You have the free will to choose to make the most of your hardships by making a difference to other people, like Tiny Tim, or Ernie the Cab Driver. What if George Bailey had been aware of the impact he had on others? What more could he have accomplished if he had been aware? You have the same influential pull with many people, and you most likely don’t even realize it!

To choose a “Christian” life lacking vigor for being Christ-like is empty and meaningless. James says that people who say they believe in Christ without doing anything about it are “deceiving themselves” (James 1:22).
Let us remember these words from Deuteronomy 30:19-20:
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, love the Lord your God, obey Him, and remain faithful to Him.”

Choose life! Use your God-given free will to make the past you’re proud of, the present you’re making a difference in, and the future you want to see.

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I’ll be posting again soon on another one of my favorite Christmas staples: A Charlie Brown Christmas! But unlike most Christian considerations of the great TV special, this post will focus on Charlie Brown instead of Linus. Can’t wait to discuss, as usual!

Works Cited:

Craig, William Lane. “12 – Middle Knowledge.” The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987. N. pag. Print.
Craig, William Lane, Dr. “Is God All Knowing? – Robert Lawrence Kuhn and William Lane Craig.” ReasonableFaith.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.
MacGregor, Kirk R. “A Theological Reformer for the Universal Church.” Introduction. Luis De Molina: The Life and Theology of the Founder of Middle Knowledge. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.