14 April 2010

Impassibility

by Phil Johnson



cripture tells us that the eternally unchanged and unchanging God became so angry against Israel at Sinai that He threatened to annihilate the entire nation and essentially void the Abrahamic covenant:
And the Lord said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people: Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation. And Moses besought the Lord his God, and said, Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand? (Exodus 32:10-11).

Two things are perfectly clear from such an account: First, we are not to read this passage and imagine that God is literally subject to fits and temper tantrums. His wrath against sin is surely something more than just a bad mood. We know this passage is not to be interpreted with a wooden literalness.

How can we be so sure? Well, Scripture clearly states that there is no actual variableness in God (cf. James 1:17). He could not have truly and literally been wavering over whether to keep His covenant with Abraham (Deuteronomy 4:31). Moses' intercession in this incident (Exodus 32:12-14) could not literally have provoked a change of mind in God (Numbers 23:19). In other words, a strictly literal interpretation of the anthropopathism in this passage is an impossibility, for it would impugn either the character of God or the trustworthiness of His Word.

Nonetheless, a second truth emerges just as clearly from this vivid account of God's righteousness anger. The passage destroys the notion that God is aloof and uninvolved in relationship with His people. Even though these descriptions of God's anger are not to be taken literally, neither are they to be discarded as meaningless.

In other words, we can begin to make sense of the doctrine of impassibility only after we concede the utter impossibility of comprehending the mind of God.

The next step is to recognize the biblical use of anthropopathism. (Since our thoughts are not like God's thoughts, His thoughts must be described to us in human terms we can understand. Many vital truths about God cannot be expressed except through figures of speech that accommodate the limitations of human language and understanding.)

The anthropopathisms must then be mined for their meaning. While it is true that these are figures of speech, we must nonetheless acknowledge that such expressions mean something. Specifically, they are reassurances to us that God is not uninvolved and indifferent to His creation.

However, because we recognize them as metaphorical, we must also confess that there is something they do not mean. They do not mean that God is literally subject to mood swings or melancholy, spasms of passion or temper tantrums. And in order to make this very clear, Scripture often stresses the constancy of God's love, the infiniteness of his mercies, the certainty of His promises, the unchangeableness of His mind, and the lack of any fluctuation in His perfections. "With [God there] is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). This absolute immutability is one of God's transcendent characteristics, and we must resist the tendency to bring it in line with our finite human understanding.

This post is excerpted from "God Without Mood Swings," originally a chapter in Bound only Once, edited by Douglas Wilson, published by Canon Press.


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63 comments:

donsands said...

Good teaching.

It is difficult though to understand even so.

God surely meant what he said to Moses, that He would destroy these people, and raise a people from Moses, and in fact said it another time as well.
And yet He didn't mean it.

God was sovereignly going to accomplish His will, and yet Moses' prayer was heard by the Lord, and the Lord did change His mind, as he did with Nineveh.

Seems there's always God's great mercy that comes when He changes His mind, when sinners repent.

It would be the same for all children of wrath, when they finally come to Christ and are saved from their just punishment.

Frank Turk said...

This post is a great conversation-starter, and Phil did well to put it in the category "Love of God".

I wish I have 4 hours to whip up a post in response.

Phil Johnson said...

Frank Turk: "conversation-starter"

So it's not the final word? Don't puncture my dogmatic confidence like that.

DJP said...

Solid, good read. Thanks Phil. I'd like to interact with it right here.

I think of it after this metaphor. I think of a great tree with irremovable leaves. The wind blows, the leaves shake — but they are attached to twigs that are attached to branches that are attached to the trunk that grows from the root. The leaves move, the tree doesn't. So is God at the point He interacts with man. We see Him interacting with the movement of events such as the narrative you site. He responds to the changing events fittingly — but He Himself — His character, essence, and eternal purposes — does not change.

Does that work with what you're saying, Phil?

DJP said...

...or does this get me voted off the island?

/c:

Frank Turk said...

Phil --

Here's what I mean:

It's interesting that we see the Wrath of God as somehow anthropomorphic, but that we see the Love of God as inherent in his character and nature.

I would agree that God does not change. I would agree that the Biblical language for God from God to us is a condescencion. But I am worried that we take this an minmimize the language God has given us to understand these related topics rather than seeing that the metaphoric language is both sufficient and pointing to something greater than the images employed.

That's why I think this is a great conversation starter: it's a place where those of us who take word of God seriously and literately may be mitigating our commitments for philosophical reasons.

From my seat, anyway. Maybe there's something I don't really know (like that's a surprise).

Luke said...

Good Morning Gentlemen,

Phil, I am wondering if you could elaborate on how God's wiping out of Israel would wipe out the Abrahamic Covenant. It is my understanding that as long as Moses, who was a descendant of Abraham, was left alive and made into a nation that the covenant would still be fulfilled. Abraham would still be the father of a great nation, just delayed a bit in time.

Thanks,

Luke

Frank Turk said...

DJP:

I agree with you -- the problem is not God changing so much as man changing, man disobeying, man being out of alignment with God who loves a contrite heart and hates hard-heartedness.

This raises other philosophical questions, but philosophy is not sufficient -- it is at best a handmaiden to revelation, and I think we're bets served to keep the handmaiden in service to her queen.

SammyBoy said...

Luke's question was going to be mine as well. Moses was a descendant of Abraham. He would certainly be the continuation of Abraham's line. How does that do away with the Abrahamic covenant?

Pooka said...

The first time I read the passage, it was amazing that it seemed to me like an idle threat from God and at best it was nothing more than a reminder of what God could do if he wanted.

Instead, he was interacting with Moses and showing his grace and mercy through it. A verification that the prayers of the faithful avail much and that God doesn't just keep an ant farm of us.

He doesn't just tell Moses and that's that, God continued the relationship with Moses (and Israel). So long as there's one faithful in the Abe Covenant there's still an Abe Covenant.

Like DJP: unless voted off the island for my kindergarten thinking.

John Christian Medearis said...

I am in agreement with Phil on this matter and I think the illustration that Dan used is helpful.

” a strictly literal interpretation of the anthropopathism in this passage is an impossibility, for it would impugn either the character of God or the trustworthiness of His Word."

It is always important that we use scripture to interpret scripture and when we have such a clear view of God's immutability taught throughout we must look for meaning in light of those truths.

"The passage destroys the notion that God is aloof and uninvolved in relationship with His people."

Moreover it displays the fact that God is not inflexible; He responds to individuals’ needs, attitudes, and actions. There is no question about God's providence in this matter and the idea of a remnant that we see throughout the scriptures is testament to that.

There is also an explanation that John MacArthur and others have made which is that a divine intention is not an unchangeable divine decree. So there's something else to throw into the mix.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I think it is just God expressing what He should do, not what He had intended to do.

God uses the interaction with Moses to explain to US (the intended audience of this conversation) what He should do, but not what He intended to do.

Moses doesn’t actually remind God of anything, as God needs no reminders, but is actually saying it for our benefit, so we can see that sin deserves His wrath. His love is enduring and this event puts God’s love on display.

Also, God does not change His mind. God purposed, ordained, and decreed all things before the foundations of the world to be exactly as they are. If God "did" change His mind about people and circumstances, that would indicate that God did not make the right choice/decision the first time around. May that never. God would then NOT be God.

Thanks for this article, Phil.

Rob Bailey said...

It would seem that NOT being literal about the anger of God could impugn his character just as much as it would to say he is not loving, or merciful. I really don't see any biblical precedent for turning the description of his anger into a metaphor. At least not in this particular narrative.

(my word verification was "lay ones" and could also indicate the undoing of my statement :)

donsands said...

"..as long as Moses, who was a descendant of Abraham, was left alive and made into a nation that the covenant would still be fulfilled." -Luke

Christ was promised through the line of Judah. Moses is from Levi. So, God ...

"Also, God does not change His mind." -Mary

That's the problem isn't it. God says He did change His mind. It's not that He didn't change His mind, but how we finite humans understand the Immutable Lord of the universe changing His mind.

But the Scriptures are clear:

"And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people."

"When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it." Jonah 3:10

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Where's the Arminians and Open Theists on this thread?

Jus' kidding, jus kidding.

witness said...

donsands you have to remember that God always said (paraphrasing here) if you do not repent then judgment will come

So then, God did not change His mind, rather He did what He said He would do.

But then I am no scholar.

Stefan said...

When I read the word "impassibility," the first thing that sprung to mind was God's decree that "they shall not enter my rest" (Psalm 95:11; Hebrews 3:11)—as in, "they shall not pass into the Promised Land": impassibility!

misty said...

Love this post, Phil! It's a tough one to get my head around, so I appreciate the explanation Dan gave about the tree and the leaves.

God does not change, but that doesn't mean He doesn't feel or respond to us. I can't completely understand how they can both be true, but then understanding the nature of God is no cinch. God is not a man, so He cannot be brought down and described and judged in human terms.

You've given me a lot to think about - and I LOVE thinking about God!

Daryl said...

If nothing else, it demonstrates that God ordains the means and the ends.

God's anger drove Moses to stand in the gap on Israel's behalf, which, in turn, God used as a means by which He demonstrated His mercy on Israel.

All of it was real, all of it had a decreed end-point.

Had Moses not pled for Israel, they would have been destroyed, just as, had we not repented, we'd spend eternity in hell. No question.

But He determined that we would repent, just as He determined that Moses would stand on Israel's behalf.

I think its mostly when we get into hard-determinism (by which I mean an Islamic kind of determination in which means play no part).

Surely the wrath and anger of God is as much a part of God as His love.
I would take "God is Love" as more defining love, than defining God. No love exists apart from God, but no doubt there will be plenty of anger in Hell.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Hi donsands:

I remember you from the old Pulpit Magazine days, when a woman named Sara posted there along w/ you. I loved your conversations back then, you both were really very interesting to read.

If you have Knowing God by J.I. Packer, go to page 79 and 80, he explains how God does not change His mind. I would quote him, but cannot b/c of copyright infringement. I actually thought it was Sproul who gave this explanation, but it is Packer instead.

Also, check out gotquestions.org, they expalin the word repent or relent in Hebrew.

1 Sam 15:29, "Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind."

Also, Num 23:9.

God bless you.

Lynda O said...

"..as long as Moses, who was a descendant of Abraham, was left alive and made into a nation that the covenant would still be fulfilled." -Luke

Genesis 49 is the first prediction of the Messiah coming from the tribe of Judah, so it was already established there from the beginning, several hundred years before Moses.

Frank Turk said...

Ms. Taylor --

We'd love the exerpt from Packer. You can post it without fear of copyright violation as long as you don;t post a whole chapter, and you do post the citation (author, work, pub date, page).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright#Fair_use_and_fair_dealing

Frank Turk said...

try this link

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Thank you, Frank. I will post it in a few minutes, but be patient, I am a very slow typist. Also, I will pull over from gotquestions a few important highlights on the subject.

Don't fall asleep on me. :)

Luke said...

Lynda O,

"Genesis 49 is the first prediction of the Messiah coming from the tribe of Judah, so it was already established there from the beginning, several hundred years before Moses."

I agree, but that was not part of the Abrahamic Covenant as found in Genesis 12 or 15. Some trouble is had in chapter 15 since God promised Abraham that his offspring would be back in the land after captivity in the 4th generation (15:16). But, one could presume that Moses coming into the land would fulfill this part of the promise with God dispossessing the inhabitants for him. There were promises contingent on the twelve tribes to be sure, but my contention is that these were not part of the Abrahamic Covenant.

Lynda O said...

I agree, this is a great post for conversation -- how we look at God's sovereignty, and His mercy versus wrath. Jonah 3 is a good reference. 1 Kings 21 is another such incident, where God threatened punishment to Ahab after the incident with Naboth's vineyard, but postponed the judgment (to Ahab's son) when Ahab repented.

God never changes, but He interacts with us, and our response to Him is also part of His plan. As I've heard it said, our prayers themselves are fore-ordained as part of God's sovereign plan.

Lynda O said...

Luke: "Some trouble is had in chapter 15 since God promised Abraham that his offspring would be back in the land after captivity in the 4th generation (15:16). But, one could presume that Moses coming into the land would fulfill this part of the promise with God dispossessing the inhabitants for him."

From Genesis 15:13-16, "Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years... and afterward they will come out with great possessions. ... In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here"

Well, the references there are plural -- "they will come out" and "your descendants" -- obviously Moses alone would not fulfill that.

Rob Bailey said...

Exodus 13:11 “When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your fathers, and shall give it to you..."

Exodus 14:28ff ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell..."

Neither one of these statements are metaphorical, yet what he said he would do and what he did are not the same. His nature, and his inability to violate his nature are never changing. It seems though that he does respond to our actions based on whether or not they please him.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Page 80 of Knowing God, by J.I Packer.

Repenting means revising one’s judgment and changing one’s plan of action. God never does this; He never needs to, for His plans are made on the basis of a complete knowledge and control which extend to all things past, present and future, so that there can be no sudden emergencies or unexpected developments to take Him by surprise.

“One of two things causes a man to change his mind and reverse his plans: want of foresight to execute them. But as God is both omniscient and omnipotent there is never any need for Him to revise his decrees.” (A. W. Pink).” “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations (Ps 33:11).”

What God does in time, He planned from eternity. And all that he planned in eternity He carries out in time. And all that He has in His Word committed Himself to do will infallibly be done. Thus we read of “the immutability of His counsel” to bring believers into full enjoyment of their promised inheritance, and of the immutable oath by which He confirmed this counsel to Abraham, the archetypal believer, both for Abraham’s own assurance and for ours too (Heb 6:17-18). So it is with all God’s announced intentions. They do not change. No part of His eternal plan changes.

It is true that there is a group of texts (Gen 6:6-7; 1 Sam 15:11; 2 Sam 24:16; Jon 3:10; Joel 2:13-14), which speak of God as repenting. The reference in each case is to a reversal of God’s previous treatment of particular people, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was NOT foreseen, or that it took God by surprise and was not provided for in His eternal plan. No change in His eternal purpose is implied when He begins to deal with the person in a new way. END of quote.

This is from gotquestions, actually they have a very good response, but I will only post one part of it. It is from, Does God change his mind?

How then do we explain verses such as Genesis 6:6, “The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain”? Also, Jonah 3:10, which says, “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, He had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction He had threatened.” Similarly, Exodus 32:14 proclaims, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened.” These verses speak of the Lord “repenting” of something and seem to contradict the doctrine of God’s immutability. However, close examination of these passages reveals that these are not truly indications that God is capable of changing. In the original language, the word that is translated as “repent” or “relent” is the Hebrew expression “to be sorry for.” Being sorry for something does not mean that a change has occurred; it simply means there is regret for something that has taken place. End of quote.

I still think Sproul said something about this subject, too, if I can find it I will pass it along.

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

Sorry, not only am I a slow typist but a blind one, also.

This is what Packer quoted Pink as saying: "One of two things causes a man to change His mind and reverse his plans: want of foresight to anticipate everything, or lack of foresight to execute them.

Sorry!

donsands said...

"In the original language, the word that is translated as “repent” or “relent” is the Hebrew expression “to be sorry for.”"

So God regretted that He was going to destroy the people.

I appreciate all the thoughts, and Packer.

It to me is still very difficult.

I know that God is sovereign, and eternal, and His eternal purpose will be done. Amen, and so be it.

And yet in the midst of God's sovereign will is a God who was sad that Adam sinned, and that He had to destroy mankind with a flood.
And the Lord, who said He would in fact destroy Nineveh in 40 days, was moved to regret His judgment, and so accepted their regret of their sin.

I like what Daryl said:

"Had Moses not pled for Israel, they would have been destroyed, just as, had we not repented, we'd spend eternity in hell. No question."

This is a bone of contention in some of most close relationships, and I need all the help I can get.

Mucho Gracias!

Jade said...

Phil wrote:
This absolute immutability is one of God's transcendent characteristics, and we must resist the tendency to bring it in line with our finite human understanding.

This is the very doctrine where Open Theism and Arminianism fail to "get it"!

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts..."

Isaiah 55:8-9

Phil Johnson said...

To All:

Sorry I haven't had time to interact with this post today. But if you read the article whence it was excerpted, that should answer some of your questions.

Also, I went to a T4G breakout session today in which Kevin DeYoung dealt with this very same issue. His seminar was excellent. Look for it when the T4G media are posted on line. It will give you more help if you struggle with this one.

This is a far more more important issue than I think some of our readers realize.

Johnny Dialectic said...

This is the very doctrine where Open Theism and Arminianism fail to "get it"!

Please explain, Jade, why you are connecting Open Theism and Arminianism (and if you see a necessary connection, please see articles on Calvinism and Hyper Calvinism and explain how that's any different).

Also, please explain, in your view, exactly how Arminians "don't get" the immutability of God's characteristics.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Mary Elizabeth:

Being sorry for something does not mean that a change has occurred; it simply means there is regret for something that has taken place.

So, in your view, God regrets some things he has caused to take place, correct?

Jade said...

donsands wrote:
I like what Daryl said:

"Had Moses not pled for Israel, they would have been destroyed, just as, had we not repented, we'd spend eternity in hell. No question."


But Donsands, let me turn that statement above on its head --- what if God ordained Moses to plead for Israel since the beginning of time. This is consistent when Christ said "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father." And David also said in Psalm 139:

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD.



Yes it blows our mind, but this is to show you the scope of God's sovereignty ... which is infinite! Otherwise, He would not be God!

Mark B. Hanson said...

Johnny D.

As one who was a member of a Wesleyan Arminian church for years, and sat through a rather painful district conference discussing the views of a certain Dr. J. E. Sanders, I will say that there is no necessary relationship between Arminianism and open theism, but the comments of many of the pastors present showed that they understood the latter to undergird the former. One went so far as to say, "Isn't God not knowing our future what we speak of when we say Arminianism"?

Fortunately, my pastor and about 3/4 of the others present were horrified enough to shout that connection down.

Jade said...

Johnny Dialectic wrote:
Please explain, Jade, why you are connecting Open Theism and Arminianism (and if you see a necessary connection, please see articles on Calvinism and Hyper Calvinism and explain how that's any different).


Hi Johnny,
in both views, they don't believe fully the immutability of God. I think the Open Theism doesn't need much explaining (right?). But in the Arminian case, they believe that a person's salvation is due to the effort of God AND man. That is God meets us half way in providing Christ's work, but that man must "will himself" to accept Christ. Again, Arminians believe that man has free will and can some how bring changes to God's plan. Such a view does affect the immutability of God --- in that if a man truly has free will, must God then rewrite the Book of Life (which He wrote before the foundations of the world was laid - Eph 1:4) as history unfolds because a certain man that used to be on that list refuses the Gospel? Apparently God would have to, if man truly has free will. So the immutability of God would be affected because now, He has to change that list ... whatever He thought in eternity past of who is in the book of life is no longer true.

Salvation is only of the Lord and not by the will of man (I mean do any of us really have free will technically speaking?!). The only reason that a person responds to the Gospel is purely by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Although in our reference frame, this all appears as if we have free will, but in reality this is all just God's will unfolding. God has ordained the elect since the beginning of time and that list will never change. So it's not possible for the salvation of the elect to fail to come to fruition. Simply put, God's plan cannot be thwarted by the will of man.

Now before someone starts screaming "hyper-Calvinist", I'm not suggesting that the Gospel is not to be preached. We don't know who the elect are. But we know those who do respond to the preaching of the Gospel and does bear the fruits of regeneration, are the elect. As Christ said, you will know them by their fruits.

Hopes that answers your question Johnny.

Bobby Grow said...

Impassibility is an Aristotelian category; it's important not to freight those connotations into the biblical articulation of God's unchangeableness. God is not static, He is dynamic. He responds to His creation, is His love an anthropopathism? Or is He love?

Impassibility means that God cannot be moved by His creation; or, through its Aristotelian connotations He becomes contingent on creation --- ironically the Aristotelian/Thomist framing leads to this anyway.

Anyway, the fact that God is trinity and His being is defined by the intrarelationship of Father, Son, and Spirit; at the least impassiblity needs to be reframed to allow for God to be dynamic vs. the necessary static nature we end up with, with the typical notions communicated by impassibility.

In other words, if we see God's being as defined by His relationship; then to sublet His wrath/justice to a subsistence level fails to recognize the dynmaic nature of God and affirms the static notion of God from whence His attributes are only added on --- so to speak.

God's love/His person's in relation shape His wrath/justice; etc.

Jade said...

One more thing I'd like to comment on. I use to be an arminian and I do continue to share with my arminian friends on the doctrines of Grace. There is an underlying fear that I've witnessed among others and use to be true in myself, when the Sovereignty of God is discussed. That is that man really doesn't have any control. But that is reality --- we are NOT the captain of our own soul. This ephiphany scares people. But if we believe God is good and righteous, then why should we fear?


As Job once said,

"I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

"You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.'

My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."



BTW Job is a GREAT book! I strongly recommend it for a deeper study on God's Sovereignty. Job and Romans were the books that led me to the doctrines of Grace....

Fusion! said...

John Frame in Doctrine of God handle's this clearly. I don't have time to write, but will eventually. Unless one of you owns DG. (PS: His Doctrine of the Word of God is almost out acc. to him).

Johnny Dialectic said...

Jade:

in both views, they don't believe fully the immutability of God. I think the Open Theism doesn't need much explaining (right?). But in the Arminian case, they believe that a person's salvation is due to the effort of God AND man.

That's not what Arminians believe. There is no "effort" by man that can save him, ever. No works. None.

That is God meets us half way in providing Christ's work

What Arminian theologian teaches that God meets us "halfway"? Do you have a citation to a reputable scholar on this?

I think your understanding of true Arminian theology is lacking in some key areas. May I suggest Roger Olson's book, Arminian Theology, to you? I don't mind if you disagree, but disagree knowing the real deal, not a caricature.

I don't mean to pick on you. There are numerous instances of careless comments along the lines of "they just don't get it!" But when we dig deeper, we see that the issues are much more complex.

It's also a caricature to posit that Arminians are somehow "fearful" of not being in control. No, we are, rather, careful about how we read Scripture and understand the true nature of sovereignty. There is no fear but the healthy fear of the Lord, which should be upon all of us--especially when it comes to how we portray his character. If we get his attributes wrong, we're not very far from slandering God's character as rendered so clearly in Scripture.

I pray for your continued theological study, as you may pray for mine!

Daryl said...

I figured Johnny D. would catch that.

He's right Jade, wherever Calvinism and Arminianism differ, it's not on the effort required to be saved. Both say none.

donsands said...

"..what if God ordained Moses to plead for Israel since the beginning of time." -Jade

There's no doubt that God is sovereign over every molecule He made. He will have His eternal purpose done His way.

And yet, there's no doubt that God was furious with Israel, and was going to destroy them all, at that particular moment. And God's heart had mercy, and regretted, or was sorrowful, that this happened, and He heard Moses, and did turn from His wrath.

Here's another thought, and word, from God to Ezekiel:

"And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God."

I thought this was interesting.

Oscar said...

If they both agree that there is no effort required to be saved, aren't the both Calvinists?

DJP said...

When Calvinists say salvation is all of sovereign grace, we mean it: no tricks or doubletalk.

Oscar said...

Amen. From what I read in His Word, God means it also.

philness said...

Last I looked Gods mouth is closed. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, "What have You done?" Daniel 4:34-35 Well I suppose one could say these things to God but you have no right. Gods decretive will is non of our business. The secret council of God is His secret. Unless of course the Holy Spirit is done leading you to righteousness in Gods revealed law. And if He is then your dead- one way or another. wink

Will Marks said...

I am an Arminian that believes that God does not change.

Gods plan was written with all the facts already in place before the foundation of the world. He knew who would be willing to accept His Son right from the start.

I do not see acceptance (free will) as an effort or work on the part of man.

Jennifer said...

Say I wanted my kids to walk in a straight line, I tell them that if they step out of line I'll "pop" them. The hardheaded one steps out of line and get's popped, then gets back in line. He steps out again, get's popped, and gets back in line... He get's out of line, get's popped and stays out of line. The Oldest child tells him to get back in line. He receives a stern warning and put back in line by me- I'm his Mother I love him and want him to do as I asked him. One of his friends comes over to us and wants to come along and gets in line. He steps out of line and my son looks at me and tells the kid "hey, you better get in line" but I don't pop that kid. The friend tires of this walk and wants to leave, we tell him bye and off he goes (and he's eaten by a bear... j/k).

Here God is a fire, the fire will burn you as long as you put your hand in it, but will stop burning you when you take your hand away.

Heb 12:5-9 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?

Moses interceded for the Israelites, one greater than Moses intercedes for the Christian.

Jade said...

Johnny D. wrote:
That's not what Arminians believe. There is no "effort" by man that can save him, ever. No works. None.

Hi Johnny,
you're clearly not reading my statements correctly. I wasn't referring to works adding to one's salvation. I was referring to the free will of man ... that is salvation only comes about with God's will AND man's will. That cannot be supported by Scriptures. It is exclusively by the will of God that any of us are saved! Man's will doesn't have any role in it (independent of God regenerating us and moving us to respond to the Gospel --- make it HIS WILL and NOT ours)! The credit fully belongs to God! And none to our choices!

I would strongly advise you to listen to Dr. Ware's lectures on this topic. He clearly makes the connection of how the classic Arminians (as well as open theism) does not fully embrace the immutability of God:

1)Uncertain Hands of God and Men: Providence in Process Thought and Open Theism.

2)Independent Hands of God and Men: Providence in Classic Arminianism.

3)Coordinated Hands of God and Men: Providence in the Reformed Tradition.

Jade said...

donsands wrote:
And yet, there's no doubt that God was furious with Israel, and was going to destroy them all, at that particular moment. And God's heart had mercy, and regretted, or was sorrowful, that this happened, and He heard Moses, and did turn from His wrath.

But that was more for our benefit than His. It's not that He didn't know that was going to happen (e.g. Israel rebelling, Moses' pleading and God relenting). But He does interact with us as history unfolds so that limited humans like us, could learn of His mercies and Grace. Again, this is consistent with Phil's mention of anthropopathism. The common error that folks have when trying to understand passages of Scriptures of where it speaks of God's response and interaction with us, is they interpret His responses as if He's just another human being. And this is a flawed presupposition because God isn't like us, as I quoted earlier from Isaiah 55:9-8. God IS GOD and we ought to view Him in His rightful place. When we view Him as if He is human (interpreting his actions as a response that humans would give to a given situation --- like changing his mind), we have demean God of His true Glory and Majesty. God is not limited by time and space like we are and He's not driven nor govern by circumstances like humans are. He can see everything at all times! This is mind-boggling and it should humble us and it should remind us that we can't draw certain conclusions of God's statement as if He's limited and human like us! But as what Phil said earlier, what can we draw out from such passages in Scriptures, are other characteristics of God that's not inconsistent with the rest of Scriptures. We can learn of God's mercies, His patiences, etc. This is consistent with the hermeneutic of Scripture interpreting Scripture. God displays these things for our benefit, so that we may know of His characteristics. But these other characteristics of God doesn't undo His immutability or stability in His choices. God's choices are absolute and sure, otherwise He wouldn't be God.

Again, the idea that man has any extent of free will comes in complete contradiction to the nature of God. God is not governed by any of our choices (and hence subject to changing his mind), but rather we are governed by God's choices made at eternity past. Whatever choices that we make today only happens because God willed it at eternity past. It may appear that we have free will but as far as in God's reference frame and in God's mind, there's really no such thing as human free will. History only unfolds as God willed it and the scope of God's power is unlimiting. And we only exist and have our being purely for His good pleasure (Eph 1:3-12). Does that sound caricature and self-centered? No. Because He IS God and by definition, He's deserving of it! :o) And I doubt it any of us would argue with that fact if God were to appear before any of us as He did with Job!

Johnny D. wrote:
I don't mean to pick on you. There are numerous instances of careless comments along the lines of "they just don't get it!" But when we dig deeper, we see that the issues are much more complex.

I only made those comments in reference to myself (when I was an Arminian) and to other Arminians I spoke with concerning this topic (at least those that had admit that much to me). I don't know you so I can't speak for yourself. If you say that is not the case for yourself, I'll take your word for it. I would only add that those among us who do embrace the doctrines of Grace as consistent to God's word, are also careful about how the Scriptures are read. I think Phil's analysis is the correct way of reading God's Word and appropriately points out how it is sometimes misread.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Jade, fair enough. But Arminians who declare the doctrine of grace and justification by faith, frequently encounter careless asides that come not from study, but from second and third and fourth hand hobbloggers. That's why I would recommend to you the book I mentioned, because it will clear up a lot of those myths and misconceptions. Then you can disagree with clarity. I spent a year in a group study of Grudem. I've also studied the Institutes, Hodge, Palmer, Sproul, Piper and MacArthur over the years. And TeamPyro, I might add (sometimes even rusty iron sharpens iron....kidding, kidding!)

Will Marks said...

Jade,
Humour me here. I was was brought up in what i now recognise as an Arminian belief. It was only after delivering a distinctly Arminian message in a distinctly Calvinist church that I realised the importance of this debate.

My question is this: Do Calvinists believe that it is not the will of God for all men to be saved? That God in all wisdom, sent his son to die for a relative few of his creation, choosing to save them, and leaving the rest for hell ?

Jade said...

Will Marks wrote:
My question is this: Do Calvinists believe that it is not the will of God for all men to be saved? That God in all wisdom, sent his son to die for a relative few of his creation, choosing to save them, and leaving the rest for hell?

Before I answer your question Will, let's walk through your logic. We know God is all powerful right? You would not dispute that, would you? OK, so on the basis of that fact … if it is God's will to save ALL, why would the Bible speak of hell? If God is all powerful and all sovereign and all the attributes that endows what "God" is by definition, then technically speaking, by your statements above, hell should not exist (well maybe just for Satan and his legions). And yet Jesus speaks of a broad way by which many humans will walk through. So, now what conclusions can we draw from this? Was Jesus wrong when he stated that there will be many that would enter the broad way or is it that God is maybe not all too power? That God is not capable of carrying out His own will? That would be utter nonsense if God is ultimately God. So how would you make sense of your statement, if you believe that it is the will of God to save all men? Or is it?

In answer to your question, we were by default headed for hell because as the Scriptures states, we were by nature objects of wrath (e.g. total depravity of man). Because of Adam's sin, we spiritually inherited hell for ourselves. God was NOT obligated to save any of us. But He did for some and that's what makes the Gospel, great news! As what the Bible defines what love is (not the way we depraved human beings would define what love is!), that while the elect were sinners, Christ died for them. Is God obligated to save everyone, or does He not have a choice in that? I can't find anywhere in Scriptures that obligates God to do that. In fact, I don't even have to defend an answer to your question, because Paul already did that in Romans 9, where he wrote:

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Jade said...

[continued...]

I think from the passage above(in the previous post), the apostle Paul answered your question very straight forwardly. So YES, God did select a remnant for His Son to die for. This plan (e.g. Gospel) was agreed upon between the Godheads before the beginning of time. Is that such a repulsive picture of God if He did so chose such a path? No. Based on what evidence should we view that as repulsive? Based on our flawed opinions? Who are we, God? Absolutely not. God IS God, He does as He desires and none of us are to question His revealed or hidden decrees. We are but bugs to be squashed compared to God! And yet, we demand and question His decrees; we make judgments of His choices?! There's something wrong with that picture. Such a view is a man-centered view; not a Biblical God-centered view. As God said to Job, "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?" When we come face to face with Him, we will surely not raise this question before Him … it will be the last thing on our minds because His presence alone will be enough to silence any question concerning His judgment and choices! Again, I'd encourage you to study Job and I'd strongly encourage to listen to Dr. Ware's lectures I referred to above. It will challenge your views about God.

I have absolutely no problem with God's choices. As Paul noted above, God has clearly made some vessels destined for destruction, while others for eternal life. In all the choices that God made, we should praise Him and trust in His judgments to be righteous and true.

Jim Pemberton said...

I wish I had time to look at all the comments. I had a great lesson with my kids as we read through Exodus last year. There are more than one account of God doing this with Moses. The other is when he said he wouldn't go with Israel up to Canaan. I started to ask my kids, "Did God know he was going to go with Israel?"

I got out of my mouth only "Did God know.." and my 13-year-old interrupted me with "Yes!"

I said "You didn't hear all of the question."

He replied, "When you begin a question with 'Did God know...' the answer is always 'Yes.'"

If God knew in either case what he was going to do, then what was his purpose for saying he wouldn't? Did God change? No. Did Moses change? Perhaps. In both cases, Moses made his appeal to God on the basis of the glorification of God, not the worthiness of the Hebrews. Therefore, Moses set out his action plan from that point on the basis of having clarified the purpose of God's glory as the ultimate goal.

If you miss this, then you miss the point of the Exodus. Too many focus on the blessing of God to the Hebrews as though this were the point of the Exodus. Even in the Bible, God himself draws attention to his own miraculous activities as evidences of his faithfulness. But why would God be faithful for the glory of the Hebrews? No, his purpose was to initiate the occupation of the promised land of Canaan under the premises of the glory of God. For therein would the ultimate revelation of God be given in the fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah for the whole world.

donsands said...

"God is not limited by time and space like we are and He's not driven nor govern by circumstances like humans are."

I agree.

And God grieves when we sin. He also rejoices when His lost sheep come back to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

In fact there is great joy in heaven when a sinner repents.

I truly believe God knew all things, and even ordained all things, and yet was grieved when Adam disobeyed.

There's an infinite God who is mind boggling.

Jesus said, "The Father loves Me, because I lay down My life."

Does this mean His Father didn't love Him, unless He did this?

of course not.

What does it mean?

I think it means Jesus' Father's love, which was absolutely possitively perfect to begin with, not to mention eternal, swelled within the heart of His Father, as the Son took His Father's will, which was to die a death of crucifixion for rebels, those sinners the Father had chosen and given to His Son, the Brdiegroom.

Thanks for the good discussion.

God always was, and had no begining, and He is infinite and full of love and mercy. praise His name forever!

have a great Lord's day!

ps I actually hear a teaching from Sinclair Ferguson on the Trinity a few years ago, and He was sharing on John 10:17

"For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again."

I do have the teachings on CD, if you would like to hear them, I can burn a CD for you.

Will Marks said...

I do not dispute that God is all powerful.

I believe that Adam sinned of his own free will and so God provided salvation for 'whosoever believeth'.

I don't believe God put a limit on the number of people who would get saved, but that he knows all, and knew before the foundation of the world who would accept his Son.

Mike Erich the Mad Theologian said...

I am coming in late on this thread but an analogy that helps me on this question is that God is the sovereign author who is control of the whole story of the world as it unfolds, but He also interacts with the characters in their own time frame. Moses in this story is a picture of Christ who (though less perfectly) intercedes and turns away the wrath of God. But God as the author had already arranged this. Therefore He meets Moses based on what the Israelites deserved and what would have happened if Moses had not interceded. But God can still make His promise to Abraham because He knows Moses will be there to intercede(he arranged it) and that intercession does make a difference.

donsands said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
donsands said...

"I don't believe God put a limit on the number of people who would get saved, but that he knows all, and knew before the foundation of the world who would accept his Son."

The Father gives us to His Son, and Jesus Christ gives His life for us, the cursed, by being made a curse Himself. He took all my sin, and be experienced all my due-wrath, deserved judgment, and He grants me His righteousness, and so I am an heir with Christ, who is my Lord and God, and yet my Brother and Friend.

"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

If this doesn't blow us out of our spiritual shoes, then nothing shall!

Lisa said...

As a woman that can have that horrendous tendency to be sometimes driven by untempered emotions, I find great comfort in the impassibility of God.
On April 9th, I put on my FB status God is the sovereign initiator and instigator of all His own affections—which are never uncontrolled or arbitrary. -Spurgeon
In response, really, to the whole blow-up over Piper-Warren. I found myself driven to study this great attribute of God to help temper my own emotions.
It really is comforting to know that the God of the universe is by far NOT open theistic. It is comforting to study this attribute and understand that He is perfectly trustworthy and faithful, though as you pointed out, NOT "aloof and uninvolved in relationship with His people..."

Praise God that "Scripture often stresses the constancy of God's love, the infiniteness of his mercies, the certainty of His promises, the unchangeableness of His mind, and the lack of any fluctuation in His perfections"