Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For the Character of God

“…The main reason Arminians reject the Calvinist notion of monergistic salvation, in which God unconditionally elects some to salvation and bends their wills irresistibly, is that IT VIOLATES THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND THE NATURE OF A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP. If God saves unconditionally and irresistibly, why doesn’t he save all? Appeal to mystery at this point does not satisfy the Arminian mind because the character of God as love showing itself in mercy is at stake. If the humans chosen by God cannot resist having a right relationship with God, what kind of relationship is it? CAN A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP BE IRRESISTIBLE? ARE SUCH PREDESTINED PERSONS REALLY PERSONS IN SUCH A RELATIONSHIP?...the issue is most emphatically not a humanistic vision of autonomous free will, as if Arminians were in love with free agency for its own sake. Any fair-minded reading of Arminius, Wesley or any other classical Arminian will reveal that this is not so. Rather, the issue is THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND THE NATURE OF PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP” (“Arminian Theology,” page 38).

I was gonna sit down and write a post called “For the Love of God,” but I thought better of it—why not write a post called “For the Character of God”? So that’s what I set my heart and mind to do—write on the character of God.

What does God’s character consist of? God’s character consists of love, grace, mercy, justice, and holiness. His essence is goodness and perfection. While God is love, He is not a God of love who lacks JUSTICE. God’s justice is a demonstration of His love. And His justice is also a demonstration of God’s holiness.

A relationship is defined as an association, connection, bond, link, affiliation, etc. So to be in a relationship means to be connected to another person. However, the relationship only REMAINS if two people are willing to tough it out and be together. No one can have a relationship by themselves. Even the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are essential to the union of God.

Although two people must remain committed to each other to keep the relationship, there are those cases where a person chooses to walk away. Look at what Matthew tells us about divorce:

“When Jesus had finished this instruction, He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan. Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on ANY grounds?’ ‘Haven’t you read, ‘ He replied, ‘that He who created them in the beginning made them MALE AND FEMALE’…so they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, MAN MUST NOT SEPARATE” (Matt. 19:1-6, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The Lord Jesus states here that divorce is not a good thing—that God made man and woman to remain one flesh from the very beginning.

In response, the Pharisees turn back and respond to Christ:

“ ‘Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”
He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of THE HARDNESS OF YOUR HEARTS.BUT IT WAS NOT LIKE THAT FROM THE BEGINNING” (Matthew 19:7-8, HCSB).

In Jesus’ words here regarding divorce, He makes it clear that man has “deviated” from the original plan, something that is responsible for all the divorce in the world. When the Lord says, “but it was not like that from the beginning,” He is making it clear that man has strayed in his own life; however, I am saying that still, the Lord allows divorce. Surely, the Lord has permitted couples the right to break up because of a set reason. What is the reason?

“And I tell you, WHOEVER DIVORCES HIS WIFE, EXCEPT FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9, HCSB).

Jesus even allows here grounds for divorce, thereby establishing divorce. Look at what the apostle Paul writes regarding marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians:

“I command the married—not I, BUT THE LORD—a wife is not to leave her husband. But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to leave his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is willing to live with him, HE MUST NOT LEAVE HER. Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband, and he is willing to live with her, SHE MUST NOT LEAVE HER HUSBAND…but if the unbeliever leaves, LET HIM LEAVE. A brother or a sister is not bound in such cases. GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO PEACE. For you, wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Or you, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:10-16, ESV)

Paul says that if the marriage consists of believer and unbeliever, that the believer should not divorce first (but the unbeliever ).If the unbeliever walks away, the person should let him or her go.

What does all this have to do with the character of God? God’s character is such that He will not force mankind into a relationship with Him that mankind does not want. Read John’s Gospel to see mankind’s massive rejection:

“He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, YET THE WORLD DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM. He CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN PEOPLE DID NOT RECEIVE HIM. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them THE RIGHT TO BE CHILDREN OF GOD, to those who believe in His name…” (John 1:10-12, HCSB)

Jesus went to the Jews, His own people—and yet, they did not receive Him. Read the Gospels and you’ll find out that when He went to His hometown, He could not do miracles there because of the pervasive unbelief (Mark 6:1-6).

In addition, look at the rich young ruler: he is allowed to walk away from Christ because Christ gave him instructions about selling his possessions (Mark 10:17-22).
There are several other passages, but this shows us that God desires that all come to Him of their own desire, not because they feel forced to. And I think this tells us about the nature of relationship—that a relationship is a VOLUNTARY association of two or more people. Each person in a relationship gets to CHOOSE whether or not to stay in it.

Roger Olson asks a good question: if people are forced into a relationship with God, then ARE THEY REALLY PERSONS? No—they’re automaton, robotic creatures that simply do what the “remote control” allows. And that is not how God made man. Man was made to have choice.

Arminius believed in the aid of the Holy Spirit as well as the choice of man. And this choice we have been given comes from the fact that we have been made in the image of God and share His LIKENESS; in the same way that God CHOSE to create us out of His own good pleasure, He gives us the power to CHOOSE Him out of our own desire. But if the Calvinists have their way, man has ABSOLUTELY NO CHOICE in anything—God does everything. It seems to me then, that the Calvinist God is no longer the loving, good God of Scripture, but the masochistic, hateful, malevolent God of their own theology…

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