There is no Romper Room-MacGyver God

July 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

When I was little there was no cable TV or internet to provide non-stop children entertainment.  There were 3 local TV channels ad one Public TV channel—which meant my preschool options were Captain Kangaroo, Sesame Street and Romper Room.  Of these, Romper Room was my least favorite because I thought it was, well, weird.  It wasn’t the old man in a pseudo-naval jacket who talked to a bunny and a moose or the politically correct urban community with a 7-foot yellow bird that bugged me.  It was Miss Nancy and her Magic Mirror that I didn’t like.  At the end of every show she would look through it and start this strange incantation and then announce all the little girls and boys she could see.  Then she would tell us all, “Do be a do-bee,” and the show would end.

Creepy.

Years later it occurred to me that this is precisely how most modern evangelicals view God’s foreknowledge in election (cf. Romans 8:29, 30):  God, knowing the future, looked into history through the “corridor of time” and, seeing who would believe in him, chose those whom he foresaw would have faith.  Election is simply the result of God’s foreknowledge of future events—in other words, God’s chooses those who choose him.

This approach is one of the greatest barriers to understanding the doctrine of election because it views God’s foreknowledge merely as his prior knowledge of events.  But if God only observes future events taking place then his active role in history is erased; he is at best a passive God who merely reacts to what he sees.

Such a view of God is unknown to the Bible.  Instead, what we find is a God who plans and carries out history according to his own eternal purpose (Ephesians 1:5, 7, 9, 11)—both events that are catastrophic as well as “a blessing.”

This majestic and powerful view of God is particularly clear in the writings of the Old Testament prophets who prophesied before Judah was carried into exile by Babylon.  Their message consists almost entirely in the certain reality of God’s coming judgment upon an unfaithful people.  This is powerfully clear than in the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah, both of whom God informed would prophesy to deaf ears and hard hearts.  Nevertheless, with this heavy truth upon them they faithfully proclaimed the coming events as nothing less than the specific plan and purpose of God:

Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors.  Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my purpose from a far country.  Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass.  I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8-11, NASB; emphasis added).

What is most striking about this passage is that it declares that God’s foreknowledge of events and their occurrence are inextricably linked to his purpose.  More precisely, God foreknows events because he plans them:

This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations.  For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him?  His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? (Isaiah 14:26, 27).

The most profound example of this truth is the death of Christ.  In Acts 4:27 and 28, in his prayer in the upper room, Peter recounts the horrible events of the preceding months, fresh on the minds of every listening ear:

Indeed, Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed.  They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (NIV).

The terminology is almost exactly that of Isaiah 14:26 and 27: The crucifixion took place as an historical event precisely because God’s hand, that is, his active power, accomplished what his will had purposed.  Even further, all of the events that surrounded the crucifixion took place because God decided before-hand that they “should happen.”  God’s foreknowledge in the crucifixion was anything but passive; on the contrary, it was the very thing that determined its occurrence.

This is a plain example of the very thing Joseph said to his brothers in response to their repeated pleas to forgive them for their wicked betrayal and cruelty toward him so many years before:  “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” (Genesis 50:19, 20a, b).  Let that sink in:  God did not cause good to come out of evil, but “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”

Job asks his wife, who tells him he ought to curse God and die after his tragic losses and horrible affliction, “…Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).

Amos asks in his prophecy to Israel, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6)

Though a great mystery to our final understanding (see the previous post), it is an inescapable truth that God ordains and carries out all things for his glory:  “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).

Ironically, though most Christians would agree that “everything happens for a reason” they balk at the idea that God ordains all things.  But how can it be that “all things work together for good” unless God is in absolute control?  The Bible does not present God as a heavenly MacGyver who is so big and powerful that he can take the junk and bad mistakes of our lives and make good things out of them; rather, he is the perfect God who designs and fulfills “all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

God indeed has a purpose for all things, a purpose that is, well, purposeful—from conception to completion. There are no accidents—and God never merely reacts. Ever.

This, again, is where we bump hard against our limitation as finite and fallen beings.  How is it that God can ordain all things—such as bringing “disaster” to a city—and not be himself the author of sin? I don’t know.  I have thought and theologians have thought about this for ages.  But what we must always interpret the unclear things of Scripture in light of the clear—and it is a crystal clear biblical teaching that God is the sovereign ruler of all things.  We must not ditch this truth simply because it is hard—and certainly not because it makes us squirm. Especially since squirming properly humbles us.

The next thing to address is how this specifically relates to people—and how it relates to their individual wills. How is it, then, that people are not merely puppets carrying out the ordained will of God?

I’m glad you asked.

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