Sunday, February 28, 2010

Romans 9: The Soulwinner's Burden and Hope

Within the last thirty minutes, I just finished listening to Dr. Ken Keathley’s chapel sermon from September 2009, titled “The Soulwinner’s Burden.” Dr. Ken Keathley, as you all know by now, is the author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” as well as a Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I attend.

Dr. Keathley preached his sermon on Romans 9:1-3, 10:1 with a lot of grace and strength. I sat and listened, spell-bound as he explained the Word with such clarity. And when it was over, I found myself with a new level of respect for someone who has been a wonderful professor as well as a dear friend. If there’s anyone I know who practices what he preaches, it would be Dr. Ken Keathley. I could go on, but as I always say, I’m a little biased...

Now, on to the content of the sermon itself. The text was Romans 9, the famous proof-text of Calvinists who attempt to convince the world that God picks the saved and damns the unsaved. What impressed me most about the sermon was his take on Romans 9:11 and the purpose of election. As he stated it, the purpose was not according to “works,” that being “works of the law” as Paul writes in Romans 9:32. “The dividing line,” as Keathley said, “is not the elect and the reprobate, but the believing and the unbelieving.” When we get to verses like Romans 9:16, that have been misappropriated by Calvinists, the references to “him who wills” and “him who runs” cannot refer to “those who believe,” seeing that works and faith are not the same thing (Rom. 9:32). If they are the same thing, then the Bible contradicts itself. However, like Paul, I too say “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

In his discussion of Jews and Gentiles, Keathley showed us just how skillful Paul was at crafting this chapter of the epistle to the Romans. In his discussion of Rom. 9:15-17, Keathley stated that here we find that God had mercy on Israel, the Jews (v. 15), but hardened the heart of a Gentile, Pharaoh himself (v.17). However, beginning in verse 19, we see the Jews questioning their responsibility if everything is going according to plan and God’s word has not failed (v.6). Paul’s answer is that God has the rights over the clay, to use the clay as He sees fit. If He decides to have mercy on Israel, for example, but then use Pharaoh in his unbelief, then it’s God’s prerogative. The “vessels of wrath,” being unbelieving Israel, are the ones in verse 22 who are now being used in their unbelief; the “vessels of mercy,” being the church, is now being used in its belief to win the world for Christ. God is now having mercy on the church, while still using unbelieving Israel to bring the world to Himself (Rom. 11:15).

Keathley connected verses 25-29 with the earlier portions of the chapter, stating that, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (v. 6) is demonstrated by verses 25-29, which refer to the multitude of Gentiles who believe, versus the “remnant” of Jews who believe. Paul quotes from the Old Testament to show that God’s Word foretold that things would be the way they are--- that few Jews would believe, while great numbers of Gentiles would.

Verse 30 concluded with the reason for the mass Gentiles and the few Jews: “that Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, HAVE ATTAINED TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, even the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH” (NKJV). While the Gentiles have received salvation, the Jews have not. Why? “because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by THE WORKS OF THE LAW.” The reference to works in verses 11 and 16 then, are not referring to faith. Contrary to Calvinist thought, faith is not a work. Faith, however, is the reason to why the Gentiles are now being shown mercy, while the Jews are being used to bring many to glory.

While all the above points made my heart leap with joy, nothing made me pause more than Dr. Keathley’s emphasis on the anguish and sorrow in Paul’s heart: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I HAVE GREAT SORROW AND CONTINUAL GRIEF IN MY HEART. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:1-3).

Keathley emphasized the great sorrow that Paul had---after just taking the reader to one of the “highest mountain peaks” of the Scriptures, Romans 8, where the believer is encouraged in Christ!! In Romans 8, Paul becomes introspective, focused on the believers in Christ; but in Romans 9, Paul becomes “extrovert,” focusing on the lost condition of his own countrymen, Israel (the Jews). Keathley told us that he prayed that we would have hearts like Paul---that our hearts would bleed for the lost peoples of the world, that they would come to Christ and be saved.

. Keathley didn’t get to preach all of Romans 9-11 (I wish he had!), but he knows, as do I, the hope that Paul had in the plan of God. For if one reads Romans 11, we find that Paul still held out hope for his people: “and they also, IF THEY DO NOT CONTINUE IN UNBELIEF, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 11:23). There is hope for Israel yet...and when Israel is ready to receive the Messiah, He will embrace Israel with the love that a father has for his son.

This is the hope we have: that, despite what seems to be a dark situation, God is still there and is still in control of everything. Paul had that same hope for his people...that, despite their current situation, God was still crying out for them to come to Him in faith. And for the lost peoples of the world, as well as our loved ones who refuse to yield, God is still working in their hearts as well. Thank you, Dr. Keathley, for such a timely message. It is only this message of hope and belief for all who are willing that will change the face of our world and please the One who has given us the Great Commission.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

God, the Sole Source of Contingency (Molina's "Concordia," Disputation 47, Section 4)

“for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” (Acts 17:28, NKJV).

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and UPHOLDING ALL THINGS BY THE WORD OF HIS POWER, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high...” (Heb. 1:1-3, NKJV)

I just recently started going through Molina’s “Concordia,” attempting to interpret Molina’s remarks regarding life and his view of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Recently, I spent time going through two types of “contingency.” In this post, however, I am now going to further Molina’s argument on contingency--- with his view of God as the source of contingency itself, the One on whom everything else depends for life and growth.

“Let this, then, be the first conclusion: since, as was proved in Part I, q. 3, a. 4, disp. 1, NO CREATED THING IS NECESSARY IN RELATION TO THE FIRST CAUSE, but rather ALL WERE PRODUCED BY HIM IN SUCH A WAY THAT THEY WERE ABLE NOT TO EXIST, it follows that GOD’S FREE WILL IS THE SOLE SOURCE OF ALL THE CONTINGENCY DISCERNED (i) in the fact that there were things that were first produced by God alone (as, for instance, in the original establishment of this universe with respect to all its parts and embellishments), and also (ii) in the fact that those things whose conservation depends on God alone are conserved and continue in existence” (Luis de Molina, “Concordia,” Disputation 47, Section 4. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Page 88).

Now, the place where Molina proves his first point is a place that we do not have access to. Only Part IV of Molina’s “Concordia” has been translated from Spanish into English. Because of this, we are a little shortsighed on Molina...but we have all here that we need to affirm Molina’s previous conclusions. He says that “no created thing is necessary in relation to the first cause.” The “first cause” here would be the “origin” or “source” of existence as we know it. Our English word “authentic” means to be “original,” or to be the primary source of something. I have often published at my other site, “Men and Women in the Church,” that the disputed Greek word of 1 Timothy 2, about “being in authority over a man” (as most translations interpret it), is incorrect. The Greek word “authentein” actually involves the suffix “ein,” which indicates an infinitive (“to be” something), plus the Greek word “authentikos,” from which our English word “authentic” derives. The verse in 1 Timothy 2 so often mistranslated should read, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to be the origin of man. This makes sense when you read the rest of Paul’s response about Adam being created “before” Eve and Eve being deceived. Paul was correcting doctrinal error in the church regarding biblical genealogy. This is why Paul tells Timothy that the purpose for leaving Timothy in Ephesus was so that he would teach some there not to teach “other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3) or to pay attention to “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4).

In any case, Molina is talking about the source or origin for all other things. Because creation is not “necessary” in relation to this being (but the Being is necessary in relation to the creation), the creation cannot be “necessary,” but “contingent” or “dependent.” If, as I’ve written in other posts, “contingency” means that something is “dependent” on something else, then the object or source on which the thing depends is a “necessary” being. Molina then states that these objects “were able to not to exist,” meaning that these objects could have never been created. Alfred Freddoso gives us a note at the bottom of page 88:

“Molina is a bit careless here. As is clear from other places in Part IV (see, e.g., Disputation 50, sec. 6), he does not mean to suggest that God freely decides which things are ABLE to exist and which things are NOT ABLE to exist. Rather, to put it somewhat loosely, of the things that are able to exist, He freely decides which ones will IN FACT exist and which ones will IN FACT not exist” (88).

What Freddoso is saying here is that God doesn’t just choose any random thing, no matter how contradictory, to come into existence. Why? because God is a God of consistency, which means that only things that are logically reasonable are brought into existence. For example, God will not bring a “round square” or a “square circle” into existence because these two items would be contradictory in and of themselves. And, since the created things reflect the Creator who made them (Romans 1:20), God will not make anything contradictory to His nature. He has created things that are different to His nature (like humanity, for example, or trees), but nothing made is contradictory to His nature. With humanity, we see this clearly when “the Word of God became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, NKJV) in the Incarnation. The Lord Jesus, being our “Immanuel,” our “God With Us,” took on flesh and His divine and human natures did not clash or conflict with each other.

Since this point is established, that all created things depend on a necessary thing for their existence, he then gets to the heart of the matter: “it follows that God’s free will should be regarded as the sole source of all the contingency discerned...” God’s freedom, God’s desire to create the things He has made is the source of all contingency in the world. What does the world and everything in it depend on? GOD!

Now, what proof does Molina give for this assertion that everything in existence depends on God? “(i) in the fact that there were things that were first produced by God alone (as, for instance, IN THE ORIGINAL ESTABLISHMENT OF THIS UNIVERSE WITH RESPECT TO ALL ITS PARTS AND EMBELLISHMENTS)...”

This is the first proof Molina offers. The creation of the world and “all its parts and embellishments,” meaning things like the water and the land, the sun, moon, stars, plant and animal life, etc. We know from Genesis 1 that creation was made by the free decision of God. This is why, for instance, when we read “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” (1:9), and “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (1:26), we understand that God is saying “Let there” or “Let Us” because the decision is up to God, who freely wills these things to be. These words, translated in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), appear as subjunctives, which indicate possibility or potential. For instance, if a person tells you, “I might go to the concert,” we don’t assume that they “will”; instead, we think to ourselves, “he is considering going,” or “there’s a possibility that he will go,” etc. The fact that God creates the world and all of creation attests to the desire of His own will.

The second reason is “in the fact that those things whose conservation depends on God alone are conserved and continue in existence” (88). In other words, every moment of every day that goes by, these “contingent” things remain in existence because of God’s commitment to sustaining them. I quoted Hebrews 1 above because it shows us that everything remains in existence because “of the word of His power.” Because God is faithful to His creation, the creation remains. Atheists appeal to “natural laws” when they discuss the continuing presence of creation; however, as believers, we “amen” the Word when it tells us that God upkeeps everything by His Word. Should God ever decide (for argument’s sake) to refuse to uphold the world any longer, all He has to do is say “fall,” and the world as we know it would fall into the abyss. The world would no longer turn on its axis in such a situation. God does not just “wind” the world up and leave it alone as the Deists believe; no---at every moment, He is interacting with creation by His Word.
I will continue our discussion on Molina and the source of contingency in my next post.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Molina's Concordia-- Disputation 47, Sections 1 and 2 (On Contingency)

“1. Thus far we have subjected our freedom of choice to intellectual scrutiny, reconciled it to the extent our weakness allows with God’s general concurrence and with divine grace, and shown with the clarity permitted us that there is contingency both in the works of nature and in those of grace. In order that we might return to the explication of St. Thomas and to the issues that pertain to this article, we must now, first of all, investigate the SOURCE OF CONTINGENCY, so that the contingency of future things might thereby be fully and more clearly established. What’s more, we will explain the way in which God knows future contingents, and, finally, we will reconcile divine foreknowledge with our freedom of choice and with the contingency of things” (Luis de Molina, “On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia,” Disputation 47, Section 1. Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 85).

We have examined Dr. Ken Keathley’s words regarding Molinism and his five-point theological system. Now, I’m gonna do what I’ve always been told is good advice: go back to the primary sources. That’s right---I’m now gonna go through Molina’s words himself, from his “Concordia, Part IV.”

Someone might ask, “Well, why is it that you will only cover Part IV?” The answer is, that Part IV is the only portion of Molina’s “Concordia” that’s been translated from Spanish to English. The good news is, however, that Part IV is all we’ll need in order to see Molina’s theology up-close.

Before I get started, I’d just like to thank Dr. Ken Keathley for taking time to sit with me over this past Thanksgiving Break and spend some time talking about Molinism. I asked him in his office about Molinist resources, and he gave me the best recommendations. He told me (I remember these five books) to buy “Divine Providence: The Molinist Account” by Thomas P. Flint, “A Molinist-Anabaptist Systematic Theology” by Kirk R. MacGregor, “The Only Wise God” by William Lane Craig, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach” by Dr. Ken Keathley, and “On Divine Foreknowledge: Part IV of the Concordia,” by Luis de Molina. I think he was a little biased in recommending his own book (smile), but recommending the others to me was as much as blessing as recommending his own. I’ve been extremely blessed in my study of Molinism and middle knowledge...and, although I’m still not a Molinist, I do affirm the biblical concept of God’s middle knowledge. I’ve read much conclusive evidence to bring me to this conclusion. Had I not become convinced of middle knowledge, at the very least, I would have affirmed true human responsibility from the Bible itself. As I’ve said here before, Classical Arminians have nothing to fear regarding middle knowledge. We may not like the name “middle” knowledge, but we can at least confirm that such knowledge is “contingent” or “dependent” upon human choices. God knows what true creatures will do because He made them---not because He determined what they would do. And, since He created the world out of His own free will and desire, we must agree that these creatures (humanity) are “contingent,” dependent upon God’s will and continued desire to be faithful to His Word. Should God decide to stop holding the world in place (hypothetically), humanity as we know it would “fall off the face of the earth” and be no more.

Today, I’m gonna start going through Molina’s “Concordia, Part IV.” For those of you who really wanna know what Molina said, I would suggest buying a copy of the “Concordia” from somewhere like Amazon. I think most copies will sell for somewhere between $15-$20. I suggest you buy the “Concordia” (Alfred Freddoso translation) for no other reason than to examine what I say about Molina for yourself. Don’t take my word for it---examine Molina’s words for yourself, to see if what I’m saying matches Molina himself.

The above quote at the beginning of the post is from Disputation 47, “On the Source of Contingency,” which is where Part IV of the Concordia starts. Molina has already argued for contingency in “the works of nature and in those of grace,” so now, he will attempt to show “the source or origin of contingency”:

“To understand the source or origin of contingency, we must note that there are two senses relevant to the present undertaking in which a state of affairs may be said to be contingent. A state of affairs is contingent in the first sense when, if you think just of the natures of the terms, the subject no more lays claim to the predicate that is affirmed of it than to the opposite of that predicate. For instance, that Socrates is sitting is contingent, since Socrates as such no more lays claim to sitting than to standing or to lying down” (Disputation 47, Section 2, pages 85-86).

When Molina talks about the “source or origin” of contingency, he is referring to the one on whom all of life depends. The next phrase, “state of affairs,” must also be qualified. This phrase refers to the idea of the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who came up with the “best of all possible worlds theory.” Jay Wesley Richards quotes from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy to provide a definition of a “state of affairs”:

“a possibility, actuality, or impossibility of the kind expressed by a nominalization of a declarative sentence” (Jay Wesley Richards, “The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity and Immutability.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003, page 54).

The definition from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy tells us that a state of affairs is an event that “can” or “might” happen (possibility), happens or is happening (actuality), or can never happen (impossibility). A “state of affairs” is simply a proposition or consideration of an action in real life. Richards also provides examples:

“‘Socrates’ teaching Plato in Athens’ and ‘Jay’s writing a book in 2002’ states of affairs" (Richards, 55).

The next word that needs to be defined is “contingent.” Something is “contingent” if it is “dependent” upon something or “conditional,” possible under certain conditions, etc.

Molina then travels into the two types of “contingency.” The first type involves subject and predicate. A subject is the object or person being discussed in the sentence. The predicate is the description or set of details given about the sentence. Let’s use Molina’s example:

“For instance, ‘that Socrates is sitting’ is contingent, since Socrates as such no more lays claim to sitting than to standing or to lying down” (Concordia, 86).

Here we find that "Socrates" is the subject (the person being discussed), and "is sitting" is the predicate, the description given about Socrates. But notice what Molina is saying here: Socrates does not have to “sit,” and Socrates is not bound to “sit” any more than he can “stand.” This is why the phrase “Socrates is sitting” is contingent (dependent, conditional): it is based upon Socrates decision to sit or stand. It is not out of necessity that Socrates sits.

But there is a second sense of the word “contingency”:

“A given future state of affairs is called contingent in a second sense, because it rules out not only the necessity that has its source in the natures of the terms, but also the fatalistic and extrinsic necessity that results from the arrangement of causes” (Molina, 86).

The second sense not only does away with necessity WITHIN the objects themselves, but also opposes the idea of necessity OUTSIDE of the objects themselves. In other words, the inner nature and outer relationship of objects are not bound by necessity. In other words, nothing within Socrates forces him to sit...but nothing from without forces Socrates to sit as well.

“It is in this second sense that we will be speaking of contingency in the present context, as we inquire into its source” (87).

Molina has defined here what he means by contingency---that objects are not bound from within or from without by necessity. We should keep this idea of contingency in mind when dealing with the “Concordia.” I will continue with Molina’s thoughts on contingency in my next post.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Middle Knowledge and the Independent God

“1) Middle knowledge is dependent knowledge, dependent upon the responses of creatures. 2) God is a totally independent being. 3) Therefore, God cannot have middle knowledge.”

Yesterday, I went to visit a very well-known force in the evangelical world. Some friends and I went to pay him a visit, and we got to sit down for a while and talk with this wonderful man of God. It was amazing to get to meet this person that I’ve heard so much about in my time at seminary, someone whose work I’ve even read before and am quite familiar with.

With a group of 13, we sat around and asked him questions about various things we’ve been studying in our own schools. One of the students asked this man about middle knowledge. His response was the above quote I provided.

Out of respect for the individuals, I will not publish their names here. However, what I wanna do in this post is examine the response to middle knowledge and assess its veracity.

Do I think the above syllogism provides a powerful statement against middle knowledge? No, I do not.

My reason? Because of the word “dependent.” The word “dependent” can mean a lot of things, but in the syllogism itself, the word “dependent,” while referring to the actions of human beings (as the man assumed), foremost refers to the action of God to create them. Another word for “dependent” in philosophical terminology is “contingent.” According to the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, Second Edition:

“Contingent: ‘conditional; dependent. May or may not occur. Accidental’” (“Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, Second Edition.” New York: Berkeley Books, 2001).

The word “contingent,” as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, means that something is “dependent.” But notice that the dictionary does not tell us “what” the item or object is dependent “upon.”

What is middle knowledge dependent upon? It is contingent (dependent), but the knowledge itself is based upon God’s decision before the foundations of the world to create. Creation and humanity are “contingent” beings, which means that God freely chose to create us. It was not necessary that you and I be born. God was not forced to create us, nor did He have to. The fact that He did attests to the free will of God. If God had chosen not to create us, then we would not exist and God would not have known anything about us.

With this statement intact, let’s talk about “knowledge.” The given formula for knowledge (according to J.P. Moreland and Garrett DeWeese in their book, “Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult”) is:
Where “k” is knowledge, “j” is “justified,” “t” is “true,” and “b” is a given belief.

In order for knowledge to be knowledge, then, not only must the proposition be a personal belief, it must also be “true” and “justified.” It must correspond with reality (“true”) and have solid evidence (“justified”). Since it is the “truth” component that interests us most in the moment, we will examine Moreland and Deweese’s assessment of what it means for knowledge to be “true”:

“So what do we mean when we say that a proposition is true?...truth is a property of a proposition, and a proposition is made true by a fact. Something about the way the world is determines the truth of a proposition, so truth is determined by a relation between a proposition and the world. (The theory of truth we shall defend---the classical correspondence theory---is a metaphysical theory.)” (Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland, “Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginner’s Guide to Life’s Big Questions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005, pp. 59-60).

So knowledge is only that which is “true,” and truth is determined by whether or not something is seen or operates in our world. For example, what do we do with the fact that in Jonah, the Lord declares doom and destruction but then forgives them and does not bring the destruction upon them He had so fervently promised? If truth is based on that which corresponds to reality, then the Ninevites had a genuine opportunity to turn from their sin. God’s declaration of doom to them, then, was a “conditional prophecy,” one that was “conditional” in that the Ninevites could choose to repent or not to repent. If we fail to argue that this is “conditional” knowledge, then we make God out to be a liar, which is a direct contradiction of the Scriptures (Romans 3:4).

Since we now know that “conditional” statements are knowledge, we must now get to the bottom of the meaning of the word “conditional” (“contingent” or “dependent”). As I aforementioned, the word “contingent” or “dependent” refers to the idea that first, God chose to create us. Secondly, however, the word “dependent” refers to the choices of human beings. Since God has granted genuine human responsibility and libertarian freedom, God knows what man will do BECAUSE MAN WILL DO IT, not because He has determined it to be so.

And this is where believers of a differing theological persuasion go wrong when they attempt to say that “God’s knowledge here is dependent upon the choices of creatures.” What they desire to do (as did the author of the syllogism above), is to assert God’s “independence” from the creature and make out God’s knowledge of creaturely actions to be an episode of “God needing humanity to know something or respond,” etc. But God knowing creaturely actions is a result of knowing that He gave them the power over their actions. As Alfred Freddoso writes:

“According to Molina, what God knows by His middle knowledge is, to be sure, dependent on what His creatures would do in various situations. From eternity God knew that Peter would deny Christ in such-and-such circumstances. But if Peter had not been going to deny Christ in those circumstances, then God would not have believed what He in fact believed. So we may properly say that God’s middle knowledge is from eternity ‘counterfactually dependent’ on what creatures will do if placed in various circumstances. But this DOES NOT DISTINGUISH MIDDLE KNOWLEDGE FROM ANY OTHER SORT OF KNOWLEDGE GOD HAS ABOUT the mere fact that God’s middle knowledge is counterfactually dependent on what creatures would do is not at all problematic, but is rather A SIMPLE CONSEQUENCE OF GOD’S BEING NECESSARILY OMNISCIENT” (Alfred J. Freddoso, “Divine Passivity,” from the Introduction to Molina’s “On Divine Foreknowledge” (“Concordia, Pt. IV”). Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1988, page 67).

So when Molinists discuss the concept of “middle knowledge” and label it as “dependent,” “conditional,” or “contingent,” it is because humans are “contingent” beings, created by the free act and free will of God. Because humans are contingent beings, God’s knowledge of them is also “contingent” (had He not chosen to create us, He would not “know” about us...because God cannot “know” that which is “false” (like contradictions) or “imaginary” (like a half-man, half-beast figure or the “square root of -1”).

To give a quick example, God having middle knowledge regarding Adam and Eve’s choices of whether to eat the forbidden fruit or not to take nothing away from God. Rather, God must possess knowledge of the genuine choice He gave if He would hold Adam and Eve responsible for their sin, and He must also possess knowledge of what choice Adam and Eve would actually make (if they possessed libertarian freedom). This two-part knowledge of God has in some sense a necessary aspect (since He has self-awareness of His actions), as well as a contingent or dependent aspect (God knew Adam and Eve would sin BECAUSE they would sin, not because He determined they would).

Nothing about this takes away from the “independence” of God; rather, we establish God’s independence in arguing that creation (and thus humanity) came about by the free will and act of God, while exalting God’s “exhaustive” foreknowledge. God’s foreknowledge truly becomes exhaustive when we see that God even knows the choices that are available IN ADDITION TO what each of us would actually choose. What about this takes away from God’s independence?

Friday, February 19, 2010

On Contingency

The Oxford Dictionary defines “contingent” as:

“conditional; dependent. That may or may not occur. Accidental.”

For something to be “contingent” means, as the Oxford Dictionary tells us, that it is a “dependent” factor. Because the event or thing depends on other events or things, it “may or may not occur.” It will not necessarily happen; but there is the possibility. Dr. Ken Keathley defines contingency in this manner:

“Contingency, simply put, is the notion that something could have been otherwise. A contingent truth is something that happens to be true but obviously could have been false” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 28).

For instance, when I was a child, my mother used to tell me and my twin sister the importance of not fighting at school. She used to always say, “You don’t have to hit someone because they hit you back.” In mom’s eyes, we had options: we could either hit the person and get in a fight, or we could refrain and report it to the teacher. Either way, it wasn’t necessary to do either action. Both actions were “contingent” in that they depended upon personal choice.

Dr. Ken Keathley, in his book “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, argues the biblical basis for Molinism in his section titled “Creation and Creaturely Freedom,” where he discusses the idea of contingency. Contingency is both a philosophical and theological idea:

“Philosophers and theologians often speak of contingency in terms of modal logic. Terms like ‘contingency’ and ‘modal’ seem imposing, but they really refer to ways of thinking we use in everyday life. Modal logic is the systematic study of common terms such as ‘might,’ ‘must,’ ‘possibly,’ ‘necessarily,’ ‘ought to,’ ‘have to,’ and ‘could not have done otherwise.’ We have a pretty good intuitive sense of what these expressions mean, but working out the relationship between these concepts can be difficult” (28).

Keathley’s point here is a fine one. Here, he goes into an area I call “the philosophy of language,” where he talks about language and what language means as worked out in Scripture. If we as genuine Christians believe in “Verbal-plenary” inspiration, then we must believe that every word (verbal) is fully inspired, not just concepts or sentences or paragraphs (verbal-plenary inspiration is supported by the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy). This is where Calvinists face real problems, for “might” does not mean the same as “must,” and “should” does not mean the same as “could.” If one desires to test this theory out, confuse the terms in everyday life and examine the problems it causes. If a person reads a medicine bottle with the directions, “you must take three pills a day,” and decides he will take one pill a day (“must” confused with “might”), or no pills at all, wait and see if he will get better physically...or worse...

But the idea of contingency is not just a philosophical concept, it is also theological and confirms the biblical idea of human responsibility:

“When Samuel informed Saul that God had rejected him as king, he told him that it could have been otherwise, Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have been foolish. You have not kept the command which the LORD your God gave you. IT WAS AT THIS TIME THAT THE LORD WOULD [emphasis added] have permanently established your reign over Israel, but now your reign will not endure’ (1 Sam. 13:13-14). Samuel pointed out Saul’s failure did not have to happen” (29).

This is quite a fascinating passage of Scripture to me. Here we see that God desired something that did not come to pass: “it was at this time that the Lord would have PERMANENTLY ESTABLISHED YOUR REIGN OVER ISRAEL...”

Saul’s choice, however, went against the plan of God; as a result, “now your reign will not endure.” Saul had no one to blame for his reign ending but himself. Scripture here very plainly speaks of Saul’s responsibility and his failure to obey the Lord. Contingency, placed within the language of the Bible, does so with theological reason: to show man that he cannot escape responsibility from his choices before his Maker.

Jesus Himself in the New Testament speaks of contingency as well, while weeping over Jerusalem:

“ ‘Jerusalem! Jerusalem! The city who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, YET YOU WERE NOT WILLING!’ (Matt. 23:37)” (30).

Notice that Jesus says “I wanted to...BUT you were not willing.” What Jesus’ words tell us is that Jerusalem (its inhabitants) did not desire what the Lord desired for them. This is why the words “I wanted to...but...” are so important. If we hold to a philosophy of language where language makes sense, we must affirm that the word “but” is a word of contrast---it means that something goes against what we expect to happen. For instance, if I say that “I wanted to go to the game, but I went home and watched a movie instead,” everyone understands that I did something completely opposite to what I had intended to do. No one looks at my example and says, “Oh, but you didn’t really wanna go to the game.” The contrast word (“but”) and our knowledge of English grammar allow us to see word functions. Words really do have meaning, and they do not all function in the same ways. If this is true, then when Jesus says “I wanted this for you, but you did not want it,” He is saying that Jerusalem (symbolic for “the Jews”) was able to resist His desire for them. God did not force Jerusalem to come to Himself, nor did He force them to resist Him and then mourn their resistance.

These two biblical examples show us that contingency is not just a philosophical concept, but a theological concept---one rooted in the VERY WORDS of Scripture. In our approach to the Bible, we cannot claim that “every word of God is pure” (Prov. 30:5) and then turn around and deny the meaning of each word. We cannot have it both ways.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Theological Relativism

“The idea that we live in a postmodern culture is a myth. In fact, a postmodern culture is an impossibility; it would be utterly unlivable. Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning! People are not relativistic when it comes to matters of science, engineering, and technology; rather, they’re relativistic and pluralistic in matters of religion and ethics. But that’s not postmodernism; that’s modernism! That’s just old-line Positivism and Verificationism, which held that anything you can’t prove with your five senses is just a matter of individual taste and emotive expression. We live in a cultural milieu which remains deeply modernist. People who think that we live in a postmodern culture have thus seriously misread our cultural situation” (William Lane Craig, “Reasonable Faith,” Third Edition. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008, page 18).

Returning to CTS yesterday, I began to think about the issue of the promises and the warnings---an issue that I’ve spent so much time on here at the Center for Theological Studies. I’ve read somewhere between 50 and 60 books on this subject in a matter of about eight you could say that I’ve done my homework on this subject, although there are times when I still believe I do not know enough...
Craig’s point above regarding medicine bottle labels shows that no one really believes in our world that “texts have no inherent meaning”; for, if a person reads a medicine label with that idea in mind, and overdoses, he might experience a number of things...including death!!!

No one really believes that texts are based on what you make of them, that you can read the label “do not take more than three a day” and decide that it really says, “take at least three a day.” If people really believed that, I think we’d have more medicinal deaths than we do. When it comes to life and death, people understand that relativism (the idea of subjective interpretation) is not a liveable idea. One of the tests for truth (according to John Feinberg in the book, “Five Views on Apologetics”) is “liveability”---can something work in everyday life, does it correspond to reality, etc. If relativism will not work for reading medicine labels, then it will not work for anything else in society either...

But somehow, I think relativism has made its way into the church---the church of God, the church that is supposed to be “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, NKJV). As a result, we come to the biblical text with an underlying relativist philosophy that determines our interpretation of God’s Word. Someone may say, “Why would you make such a claim as that?” Well, there’s evidence...

Return with me to Craig’s example of reading the medicine label. If the label says, “Take with food,” and you take the medicine without food, can you honestly expect NOTHING to happen to you? Are you justified in expecting no side effects when the medicine clearly states, “Take with food”? No---there is no justification for disobeying medicinal warnings. And every person, whether Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist, will agree upon that: disobeying doctoral or medicinal instructions will only wind up hurting the rebellious spirit. If a person fails to obey instructions, we will tell that person that he or she deserved what they got...and that they are suffering the consequences of their actions.

Teachers tell students the same thing. If a professor says, “The term paper is due at 5pm on March 15th,” and the student waits until March 16th to turn their paper in, what will the professor say? “I’m sorry---you get a ‘zero’ on this assignment.” Professors make this very clear on their syllabi every semester to their new students so as to have no misunderstandings about their expectations of student performance. And, in the same way the professor will tell the rules up-front, he will also enforce them should he have to; in other words, rebellious students will fail his class...and no personal interpretations the student provides of the professor’s expectations will change his grade.

When Calvinists, Arminians, and Molinists come to the Bible, we all read the promises and note the promises. We delight in God’s promises to “supply your needs according to his riches in glory,”(Philippians), to “wipe away all tears from our eyes,”(Revelation), to “come again and receive you unto Myself,” (John 14), to “teach you and guide you into all truth,” that “all things work together for the good of them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28), that “nothing shall separate you from the love of God,” (Rom. 8) etc. We like the idea that God would give us such assuring promises. We even sing the song, “Blessed Assurance/ Jesus is mine/ oh, what a foretaste of glory divine...” To us, the promises are little traces of “silver lining” in a world of darkness that we can cling to when persecution and tribulation are our lot. It comforts us to know that God has good things in-store for us.

But we become relativist when it gets to the warnings. Suddenly, the warnings only work for certain people. When we read that “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God...therefore do not be partakers with them” (Eph. 5:5, 7, NKJV), we automatically assume that Paul wrote this to the “fake” and “phony” Christian whose heart is not right with the Lord...almost as if to say that, if you’re saved, you will not do these things.

The problem with such an analysis is that SAVED PEOPLE DO THESE THINGS!! As much as we hate to admit it to ourselves, saved people can be “covetous” and play the lottery in order to afford a BMW like the one their next-door neighbors have; saved people can be “fornicators” and can have pre-marital sex. Saved people can even commit adultery on their spouses and watch pornography, etc. As much as we despise this fact, saved people wrestle with sin just like the unbeliever does...

If you think I’m just a liberal theologian who needs to get a conservative backbone, look at David, a man whom the Scriptures call “a man after God’s own heart.” The Word tells us that as much as David loved God, he still lusted after Bathsheba, had her husband Uriah killed, and then slept with her and procreated a child by her. For all the godliness in the person of David, he was still human, and he still wrestled with sin. And I am bold enough to say that, for all the “knowledge” the church of Christ has today, NONE OF US are above David. If “the man after God’s heart” can sin to the extent David did, then I don’t think you and I are any more “resistant” to sin than David was!!!

So why then, do we read the “theological warning labels” of Scripture, like Ephesians 5 above, the warnings of the book of Hebrews, Romans 8, etc., and conclude that the warnings only refer to the fake and phony Christian? To approach the text in this manner is to say, “Even though I’m a child of God and God speaks to me through His Word, when it gets to the warnings, God is speaking only to SOME of His children, not to me. I don’t need the warnings because I’m right with the Lord. The text doesn’t really mean what it says. Even though it says ‘those who sin will not inherit the kingdom,’ it doesn’t really mean that. What it means is that ‘those who are fake and phony and do these things will not inherit the kingdom.’ Those who were not sincere at the moment of belief are the only ones these verses are pointing to.” And this, my friends, is what I call “theological relativism,” the idea that the biblical text itself can be reinterpreted any way a person so chooses to interpret it. If a person wants to toss out the warnings and emphasize the promises, then he can do it---why? because the text can mean one thing for him, and another for someone else. This is theological relativism.

And this view appeals to many people. I mean, think about it: who wants to face the warnings? How many sermons get preached from pulpits in churches all across this country on Sunday that have to do with the warnings? How many times have you heard sermons about Revelation’s warning that the murderer, sorcerer, and those who commit sexual sin will be thrown into the lake of fire? If I know the atmosphere rightly, I will dare to say “little to none, if any at all.” Why? because “It doesn’t encourage, and people need to be uplifted. They need to be reassured of God’s goodness and God’s sovereignty.” As a result, people don’t hear about how offensive sin is to God because that doesn’t “encourage” or “exhort.” I’m sorry to say this, but contrary to this idea, the Word itself serves such a purpose: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for REPROOF, for CORRECTION, for INSTRUCTION IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NKJV).

God’s Word was intended to do more than just “bless us,” but to also “correct us,” to criticize us, to show us the areas in which we falter before God. In the same way that the purpose of a mirror is not just to show us how good we look but to also point out a strand of hair that’s out of place or acne that needs to be treated, so the Word itself is a mirror (James 1:23) that functions to show us our sin before God, to make us aware of the need for improvement. But if theological relativism rules the day, we can look in the “mirror” of the Word and pretend that nothing’s wrong: we still look good, even if our hair is a mess and our teeth are unbrushed. To put this truth closer to home, we can look in the “mirror” of the Word and still pretend that we will inherit eternal life as we go home and smoke a few cigarettes, use a few curse words, watch a little pornography, go on secret dates with the office secretary while the wife thinks you’re working, and miss a few Sundays at church to watch NFL football. We can still pretend we’re going to heaven, even though we only put up a “momentary” resistance to sin...and then yield immediately thereafter. Why? because of the promises, right? “No warnings, no worries”---this is the massive lie that we tell ourselves, while our souls are getting ever closer to Hell’s door. And we do this because of a little pin cushion we call “theological relativism.” Tell me this: what good will the pin cushion do if the flames of Hell prevail against it?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The illogical idea of an impersonal creator

“Naturalism does not have an answer for the ultimate question of why there is something instead of nothing, but then, theism does not try to answer the agnostic’s question: who created God? Creation has to begin with something that is eternal, the uncaused cause of everything that follows. Theists start with God, and scientific naturalists start with matter (perhaps virtual particles emerging from a quantum fluctuation in a vacuum) and IMPERSONAL natural laws. From the ultimate beginning to the emergence of human consciousness, according to naturalistic science, PURPOSELESS NATURAL FORCES of the kind already known to our science were capable of doing, and actually did do, all the work of creating formerly credited to God. This account is what I call the ‘grand metaphysical story of science,’ in which Darwinian evolution is the most important element...” (Phillip E. Johnson, “Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education." Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995, pp.16-17.)

I’ve been reading some for my apologetics term paper due in a class in a matter of weeks…and while reading Phillip Johnson, I came across this quote. What struck me the most is the idea (which I think just dawned on me) that blind, impersonal forces, if not nature herself, is responsible for creating all of the world itself (according to evolution). I guess the idea, while greatly disturbing, never gets old to the human mind...

But it’s not so much the idea that’s disturbing as the argument itself. To be frank, it doesn’t make any sense; it is illogical to the human mind to conceive of such an argument. Let me explain why.

Think of humanity. Humans possess intelligence, and with that intelligence, we have achieved many things over the years, including walking on the moon and creating the first airplane. The human potential is great. As C. S. Lewis once stated:

“It is a matter of daily experience that rational thoughts induce and enable us to alter the course of Nature----of physical nature when we use mathematics to build bridges, or of psychological nature when we apply arguments to alter our own emotions. We succeed in modifying physical nature more often and more completely than we succeed in modifying psychological nature, but we do at least a little to both. On the other hand, nature is quite powerless to produce rational thought: not that she never modifies our thinking but that the moment she does so, it ceases (for that very reason) to be rational. For, as we have seen, a train of thought loses all rational credentials as soon as it can be shown to be wholly the result of nonrational causes” (C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,” pp. 38-39).

Lewis continues and gets to the heart of the matter:

“That is the peculiar state of affairs at the frontier. Nature can only raid Reason to kill; but Reason can invade Nature to take prisoners and even to colonise. Every object you see before you at this moment----the walls, the ceiling, and furniture, the book, your own washed hands and cut fingernails, bears witness to the colonization of Nature by Reason: for none of this matter would have been in these states if Nature had had her way” (C.S. Lewis, “Miracles,” page 39).

As I stated above, humans possess great power and potential in the world to alter the environment in which they live. However, there is one little thing to add to this point: while humans are able to build and create, they can never build and create anything greater than themselves.

A good example of this would be Israel’s story of the golden calf in Exodus. We are told that when Moses went up to receive the Ten Commandments, the people tired of waiting for Moses after some time and told Aaron to make them a golden calf they could worship:

“ ‘Come, make us a god who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt----we don’t know what has happened to him!’
Then Aaron replied to them, ‘Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them to me.’ So all the people took off the gold rings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from their hands, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf.
Then they said, ‘Israel, THIS IS YOUR GOD, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:1b-4, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Although the people made a golden calf, and exalted it as “god,” the calf itself did not even possess the intelligence of the people (Israel) who worshipped it. This is what made idol worship (and still does today) a humorous, yet ridiculous, matter indeed! Why worship something that doesn’t even possess your own capabilities? The Israelites were rational, thinking beings, while the calf was just a bunch of gold melted together, with no intelligence whatsoever. Who would want to worship a block of gold?

But Darwinists (and evolutionists) do the exact same thing when they attempt to argue for philosophical naturalism. Johnson defines “philosophical naturalism”:

“In our greatest universities, naturalism----the doctrine that nature is ‘all there is’----is the virtually unquestioned assumption that underlies not only natural science but intellectual work of all kinds. If naturalism is true, then HUMANKIND CREATED GOD----NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND” (Phillip Johnson, “Reason in the Balance,” pp. 7-8).

Go back to the first quote I provided at the beginning of this post. Darwinists (those who hold to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution) believe that “impersonal natural laws” and “purposeless” forces are responsible for the creation of the world. But then, why worship “Nature” as God? If nature is “impersonal” and designs without purpose (“purposeless”), then why worship her?

Think about the human potential. Humans possess rationality (thought) and personality (character). If nature possesses none of these (neither thought nor personality), and humanity does, then doesn’t this make humanity GREATER than nature (because humanity possesses things that nature lacks)? And if humanity is greater than nature, shouldn’t humanity be WORSHIPPED rather than nature itself?

Well, I suppose that if nature and humanity were all that existed, I would worship mankind as his own god. However, there is more in life than just humanity and nature. In the same way that nature, as impersonal and lacking personality, cannot produce personal and rational humanity, humanity itself cannot have produced all we see around us. For, if humans were created at a set time, and are limited by human nature (what they can and cannot do), then some Unlimited Being must exist out there, one who is not bound by limitations. This is why humans “discover” territory and planets, not “create” them; we “conserve” natural resources, not “plant” or “place” them in the earth; why we do not “create” days, but “mark” the passage of time. This is why we cannot “guide” storms, but must “flee” from them in order to save our own selves. Finally, this is why we “find” cures rather than “cure” diseases like cancer and AIDS. In contrast to these things, in the world of computers, we “invent” and “design” software programs and other technological accessories. I hate to say it, but we do not possess the same grip on the harder issues of life as we do the easier ones. And this should tell us just how limited man really is.

“When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You set in place, WHAT IS MAN THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM, the son of man that You look after him?” (Psalm 8: 3-4, HCSB)

Nature, then, lacks what humanity possesses---and therefore, cannot be the “God” of the universe. There only remains one that can do so...

Some may say, “Well, what can we know about this Creator? If nature is not ‘God,’then who is?”

Let’s go back to Israel and the Golden Calf. Israel melted down her gold to make this animal, this idol; but the worst part is that the idol did not possess the intelligence of the Israelites themselves. They could only make, at best, something INFERIOR to their own identity. They couldn’t create an object that would possess intelligence, or personality, or even something that could talk back to them! Notice that the calf could not talk...

So whoever is responsible for creating humankind (and therefore, all of creation) is someone who at least possesses intelligence (because man possesses rationality). If nature is not it, then there must be a God of the universe who is the exact opposite of everything nature is. This God would NOT be the god of “finite godism” (the god who changes throughout life), nor would He be the god of process theology (the god who is constantly becoming); instead, He would be the God of the Scriptures, the God who said “I AM that I AM” (Exodus 3:14) or “I will be that I will be.”

Psalm 115 tells us why the God of the Bible is to be worshipped:

“Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to YOUR NAME GIVE GLORY because of Your faithful love, because of Your truth.
Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in heaven and does whatever He pleases.
Their idols (the nations) are silver and gold, MADE BY HUMAN HANDS. They have mouths, but CANNOT SPEAK, eyes, but CANNOT SEE. They have ears, but CANNOT HEAR, noses, but CANNOT SMELL. They have hands, but CANNOT FEEL, feet, but CANNOT WALK. THEY CANNOT MAKE A SOUND WITH THEIR THROATS. THOSE WHO MAKE THEM ARE JUST LIKE THEM, as are all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:1-8, HCSB).

The “gods” of the nations are just idols, just statues, just objects. The funny thing is that these idols cannot even “speak, hear, smell, feel, or talk.” These idols are INFERIOR to the humans who worship them! And those who worship the idols are SUPERIOR to the idols themselves!

How ridiculous it is to worship a god who is “less” than ourselves!! And yet, this is what we find the Darwinists telling us to do: worship an impersonal and non-rational nature, one that is inferior to ourselves. How wild is that?

Who would ever worship something inferior to themselves? This makes no sense. All throughout time, humans have longed to worship something “greater” and “beyond” themselves. But if the Darwinists have it their way, man will begin to worship something over which even he himself has power (Genesis 1:26-28). Where’s the logic in all this?

But, such is the state of man when he has forgotten who his Creator is...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

For You, Mom: In Memory of Teressa A. Richardson (June 28, 1956---February 3, 2009)

I realize that I haven’t posted at the blogs in a while. And for that, I’m extremely sorry. As a student, I’ve just recently started a new semester in seminary; this means that the work load has increased, deadlines are in place, and I am running like a chicken with its head cut off once more.

But today, I wanted to pay tribute to someone very special and extremely dear to me, a person who has been an indispensable part of my life since the day I first entered the world---my mother, Teressa A. Richardson. One year ago today, February 3, 2009, my mother died from brain cancer at the relatively young age of 52 years old. And today, I want to set aside the usual routine here at the blog to honor the woman who made me everything I am. You, my readership, will benefit from this blog because of the woman who not only gave me life, but influenced who I've become. In many ways, this blog is as much my mother's voice as it is my own.

Teressa A. Richardson was born Teressa A. Alston to parents Anthony and Annette Alston on June 28, 1956, the oldest of what would soon be a son and two daughters. Mom graduated Valedictorian in her 1974 high school class and enrolled as a student at Duke University in the fall of 1974. She went on to graduate from Duke University in 1978 with a dual Batchelor of Arts Degree in Accounting and Economics.

Mom soon married after college, to her best friend and high school sweetheart, James A. Richardson, on December 15, 1979. To this union, two children, a set of twins, were born: Danielle and Deidre (me) on August 21, 1984. After 12 years of marriage, mom and dad separated in 1991. They did not divorce until October 1993. Mom received full custody of her children and continued to work full-time, teach our Sunday school class, and raise us as any devoted parent would.

After working in a few jobs here and there in her 20s, mom found her place in the working world at a place formerly known as Consolidated Diesel Company, owned by Cummins, Inc., where she worked as the senior accountant for 21 years. She was dearly loved by her coworkers.

Not only did mom serve her community and her family, but also her church. She joined the family church, where her father has been a deacon for over 40 years, at an early age. She started singing in the church choir early, and went on to teach the youth Sunday school class (where my sister and I were) as well as serve as the financial secretary, a position that required upkeep of the church financial records. In addition to these positions, she went on to teach the Adult Sunday School class in her pastor’s stead. She served in these positions until her death on February 3, 2009.

In January 2006, mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. The cancer would then metastasize to her lungs (lung cancer) and then, finally, to brain cancer in February 2007. I was a student at seminary at the time. In August 2008, mom would enter into retirement from Consolidated Diesel, having put in 21 years of work. After six months of hospital visits due to bodily infections, mom would face more infections in the days to come.

In January 2009, while I resumed classes at Southeastern Seminary for the Spring semester, mom continued to decline in health. I saw her three days before she died. The weekend before the Tuesday of her death, I got to spend some time with her, just the two of us alone. Then and there I got to tell her just how proud of her I was and just how much of a role model and example she had been to me and my sister Danielle. The cancer had progressed until mom could not even open her mouth to talk.

That Sunday afternoon, upon coming home from teaching Sunday school and performing the music for worship service, I was left alone with mom to say some things before I left. The Lord told me then that my mother was leaving me. He had told me earlier that weekend when me and the family sat around and saw her sleeping all day, with the only noises coming from the respirator in the hospital bed. But Sunday was the day to seal it all: for me, mom was leaving...and I had to accept that she was parting from me. It was at this time that I laid over her and prayed for the Lord to receive her into His embrace. I knew she was saved, loved the Lord, and had served Him faithfully. And now, He would take her home to the place He had promised and prepared for her (and for all who love Him).

That following Monday evening, February 2, 2009, my sister Danielle called me around 5pm or so to tell me that the hospice nurse noted that mom was soon to die. The nurse told us that mom would not make it through the rest of the week...but that prognosis declined within five hours. The next pronouncement from the nurse was that mom would not make it through the night. She would die before nightfall.

I was at Southeastern surrounded by neighbors and a special friend, Eunice, who spent the night with me once it was certain that mom would die through the night. At 2:07am on Tuesday morning, February 3, 2009, my mother breathed her last here and embraced the arms of our Savior, as He took her home to live with Him forever.

If there’s one thing my mother taught me on this earth, it was that our lives are not about us, but the glory of God. Each day is a gift that we are given by a gracious God; but we are not promised a new day. Should God grant it, then He has been gracious to us (we did not deserve it); but if He does not, then that, we too, must also accept.

I was extremely graced by God to have such a wonderful woman to call my mother for 24 years. And because of the godly example she modeled before me, my life is forever changed. An old saying goes, “Life is not about what you get here; it’s about what you leave behind.” If that’s true, then my mother left a fortune unparalleled when she stepped foot into glory.

Lord, thank you for my mother, who blessed my life in so many ways. Thank you for how you watched over us, and blessed us through all our hardships. Thank you for the laughter, the love, the hugs, the tears, and even the misunderstandings. Thank you for allowing me to live and love and enjoy good days with mom. Thank you for all the support you graced her to give her children, even when she was hurting after such an unexpected divorce. And thank you that, even after the divorce, she found purpose and meaning again in you, as well as the ministry of parenthood to her children, and service to her church.

Mom, thanks for all the many things you taught me---how life is only worthwhile when we put God first in everything we do. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made to make life comfortable for me and Danielle. Thanks for all the little lessons you instilled into us, the stories you told us over and over again, the arguments, the laughter, the jokes, the surprises, the joys, and even the discipline. Thanks for giving your all so that we could benefit. Because of your labor before God, we have been given so much. Thanks for the prayers you sent up for us, even when we were doing crazy things and needed to be disciplined. Thanks for the times when you would be there to hug us when life disappointed us.

Mom, there are so many things I could say about you---but if I tried to name them all, many I would forget. But I want you to know that you are my hero. And this post is for you.