Sunday, July 19, 2015

Disappointment in God's Not Dead

To clear up any misconceptions about the title of this post let me first say that I am very glad that God is not dead, and that He is surely alive!

My disappointment does not rest in his viability, but in the movie of the same title. My disappointment is not in Christians wanting to use media as a source of witness, nor is it in Christians engaging in philosophical debates as a means of witness. My disappointment comes toward the end of the movie when the momentum takes us to a critical moment. The age-old question was raised which is a harder question to answer than whether God exists or not. The question of all questions: why evil? If this supposedly good God is supposedly all-powerful, then how or why does He allow evil? It's a huge moment in the movie. Whether you are enjoying the movie up to this point or think it's the cheesiest thing you've ever seen, everyone's attention perks up a bit. What is he going to say? How will he answer? What is the answer? Everyone at some point has wondered about this, whether at the bedside of a dying mother, or seeing famine, disease, and war-ravaged Africa take its toll on her children. How could my good, sovereign God choose this, or even allow it?

We all hold our breath as we wait for the sublime to come out of the protagonist's mouth, and what follows could not be more disappointing. "Free will," he quips, almost simplistically, like we all should have just known that. What's more, he just assumes that everyone will think, "Of course, free will, that explains it!" He does not develop why us having free will coincides with God allowing evil in the world. He goes on to say that God wants us to freely choose Him so that we can get to heaven with our free will intact. My immediate question is why is keeping our free will intact so important? My real question though is whether that idea is even Biblical?

Is free will Biblical? Why is determining that important? If it isn't Biblical, why can't we bring our ideas to the Bible? In any belief system there has to be a rock solid foundation. There has to be a standard by which everything is measured. Otherwise you do not have a belief system or even a religion but just a bunch of people running around believing whatever they want to. For the Christian, the Bible is the perfect standard, not the pope, not your pastor, not the TV evangelist, not tradition, not even and especially not ourselves. The Bible is the source of everything we believe, and if at anytime we believe something that contradicts the Bible, then we are in grave error and in danger of heresy. The question again is this: does the Bible teach free will? First of all, the term free will is never found in the Bible (except one place in the book of Philemon, but it's just the phrase, not used as meaning what we are now considering). Those who believe we have free will would explain that in terms of our ability to choose Jesus as our Savior and would look to passages such as John 3:16 where it says "whosever believes" will have eternal life. Somehow the phrase "whoever believes" equals free will to them. But does it? Does that verse say anything about our wills or whether our wills are free? Definitely not the latter and not really the former. The verse is really just a statement verse: whoever (so anybody) believes (puts their faith in Jesus) will have eternal life. If you believe, you have eternal life. It's really just a simple cause and effect verse that says nothing about our wills being free. It mentions us believing which does include an act of the will to believe, but it never says enough to establish whether that will was free or not. Does the Bible anywhere say anything about our wills, our nature, and whether we choose of our own free will? It does. Consider these passages:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. - John 6:44
Focus on the first 3 words for just a moment: No one can, no one can, no one can. This phrase speaks of absolute inability. What are we absolutely unable to do? We are absolutely unable to come to Jesus unless the Father draws us. That's what the Bible says, not me. It does not speak of our wills directly, but whatever the condition of our will, we are certainly not free to come on our own.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-
6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2:1-9

This passage speaks of us as being dead to God, and alive only to sin. It speaks of us not free to pursue God if we want, but of us simply pursuing passions that make us the object of God's wrath. So what changes our bad situation? Our free wills? No it says "but God". Are you sure our free wills did not play some part? It seems to answer this by making sure we know that God did His saving work, "even when we were dead in our trespasses." A free will able to choose God while we are dead in our trespasses does not seem possible. Why? Because death is death. Why is death so terrible? Because we cannot change it. If we could come back alive of our own free will when we die, dying wouldn't be so bad. But by the very nature of our slavery to death not our freedom in it is what causes the horror of death. Why would we think we had the ability to will to change our being dead in trespasses to choose God?

9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,
10 as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 
11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 
13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 
14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 
15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 
16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 
17 and the way of peace they have not known." 
18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."  - Romans 3:9-18

The point of this passage is not only can no one earn their way to heaven, they don't even want to. No one seeks God (on their own). Again this passage does not specifically say whether our wills are free or not. They may be. But what this passage teaches us is that even if our wills are free, our nature is so depraved that left to ourselves we would never exercise our will to choose God. Left to ourselves we choose sin every time. We may not have committed all the sins listed explicitly in this passage, and it may look like we sought out God when we went to church and prayed a prayer. No one is saying those things did not happen or that they were meaningless. What the Bible says about those experiences is that if they were genuine, it was because God put that desire in your heart. You would not have if left to yourself. He willed it to happen. He made you alive as it says in Ephesians 2 so that you could want to believe and not perish, but have eternal life.

Therefore, my disappointment in the movie is that one of the major conclusions at the height of the movie is erroneous. God does not leave us to freely choose Him so that our free will remain intact, and that somehow accounts for evil in the world. No! God breaks into my life while I was running from Him in my heart and changed my heart so that I would will to believe and love Him. He is the Savior of my helpless state... not my ability to exercise free will.

Why evil is in the world is a question for a different blog post.

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