Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sovereignty and Jesus

I am so thankful for posts like Ben Witherington's recent entry: But the Lord was not in the Wind. In further discussion in the comments, Ben makes these further remarks that are so helpful I must quote them at length!

The sovereignty of God is of course an important subject in the Bible, as my mentioning of Rom. 8 at the end of this blog ought to show. But it is a huge mistake to equate God's sovereignty with causation when it comes to a whole host of events. The issue is not whether God is almighty, but rather how does God exercise his sovereignty. The problem with John Piper and other scholars who read the Bible as if it were written by Augustine or Calvin rather than by early Jews, is that they do not understand how early Jews thought about these subjects, which involves allowing there to be more than one source of causation in the universe. The alternative is indeed to make God the author of what God in fact calls evil repeatedly in Scripture--- which is a huge besmirching of the character of God. It is equally problematic to make God's sovereignty the heremeneutical key by which then one tries to fit God's other attributes into a procrustean bed. For example God's love or God's desire that none should perish but all have everlasting life (see e.g. Jn. 3.16-17; 1 Tim. 2.6) do not fit the Augustinian understanding of sovereignty. And while we are at it, Ephes. 1.11 simply tells us that God is almighty to save. It is in no way a commentary on the cause of evil and tragedy in this world.
But perhaps the greatest failure of the Piper model of sovereignty is that it gets wrong the whole nature of God's love, which involves freedom not only on the part of God but also real freedom of response on the part of those he is wooing and loving. It is a case of "freely you have received, freely give". Love is not something that can be predetermined and still be love. Automata are not capable of love. And as 1 John reminds us in so many ways God is love. This I would suggest must affect the way we think about God's sovereignty or else we are actually Moslems, not Christians with a belief in pure fatalism, all things predetermined. The alternative to Augustinianism is not Deism-- it is rather a full orbed view of all of God's attributes including God's love. God is not the only actor in the universe whose will matters, and this is because God chose for it to be otherwise from before the foundations of the universe.
While some may have reservations about the theology of Open Theism, one must admit that Calvinism is bankrupt in it's notion that the God of scripture is ultimately the author of sin and/or evil. And where I'm sitting, Open Theisms attempt to deal with Freedom and Evil is a far better model [even though there are serious issues to be resolved] than that of determinism/Calvinism.
The most often quoted John 9 is helpless in the determinist case if we just pay attention to the text, the Greek text!
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so let God's works be revealed in him.
Jesus' response may be assumed to imply an agreement with those who wish to advance the view that even this man's blindness was determined by YHWH but the text doesn't actually support this premise. In the Greek text, the underlined section of this pericope is curiously absent. Therefore, in response to the primary question, Jesus simply says "Let the works of God be revealed." Translators include the words "he was born blind so that" because of a theological presupposition or they think it is implied in Jesus' answer to the disciples question. But presuppositions and assumptions don't carry much weight when they are being directly questioned and challenged. Grammatically, the passage does not require the insertion of extra bits.
Ergo, in response to the disciples question, Jesus responds by saying "Let God be Glorified". In essence, as per usual, they were asking the wrong question. What matters is seeing the work of God revealed, not debating who or what sin/agent caused the problem. If we do not allow the assumption that Jesus believed there was a divine reason for everything, the text is perfectly intelligible without the insertion. In response to evil or sickness, let's not seek to blame God, let's seek to glorify YHWH by asking Him to heal and restore. Jesus negates there question, he doesn't answer it. That's the theology of John 9.
Now obviously there are other issues that aren't resolved and that need to be addressed. But I think we best go back to the sources before assuming too much... Build on rock, not sand is what my master would say...

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