Here’s passage that’s often quoted (usually out of context) and is just as often misunderstood:
2 Corinthians 12:5-10
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
First, let’s give this a little context. 2 Corinthians is dated approximately at about AD 55-58, most likely historically placing it in Acts chapter 20, in Macedonia (northern Greece). Here are some highlights of the difficulties that happened in Paul’s ministry up to that point (listed in sequence; the years depending on the dating scheme used could be off by 1-2 years):
~ 48 A.D.
province: Galatia / city: Antioch (of Pisidia)
50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.
In the previous post, we talked about how to differentiate between different active personal forces and their roles in the events that we consider.
How do we apply this to inform our theological worldview?
In the very beginning, God designed things in this world to function in a certain way. If you cooperate with the design, you will reap the rewards deriving from your understanding and correct usage of the system. If you go against the design, you will reap the penalty of your own ignorance. The law of gravity works to keep out feet planted on the ground and prevents us from floating in the air when we walk. We cooperate with the law, and we make it work for us. The very same law works when someone jumps off a tall building. We operate against the law, and now it works against us. Note how in both cases, it works the same exact way, but the results are different.
You can’t blame a designer for misusing his design. The designer is responsible for communicating his design; the user is responsible for familiarizing himself with instructions, and if the designer is accessible – with the instructor. Well, in our case, the design is well-described in the Scriptures, and the designer is very accessible, 24×7!
I want to consider the role of God as a system designer and engineer (or “designer”, for short). A correct understanding of that role is critical in correctly informing our theological worldview.
Let me start off with a simple example that illustrates people using just one agency variable to explain processes involving multiple agencies in multiple roles.
Before creation, God’s sovereignty was absolute and was only circumscribed by the parameters of his own character. At that stage, everything God created – and I quote – “it was good”. Unhindered by anyone else, and his plans uncontested by anyone’s free will, it took him 6 days to create this world (I am not going to argue here about literal years vs. year-epochs – the point of it is that the whole of creation fits in the first 2 chapters of the book of Genesis).
After God created a human and said “Have dominion on this earth”, now the decisions of humans, both individually and collectively, play into the outcomes of things happening on planet Earth.
Subsequently, humans were tricked into sharing their God-given authority with satan, and now we have 3 active agent forces. God, humankind, and satan. At that point God’s sovereignty is not absolute, since humankind can act on their God-given free will. Now not everything is good, and evil is introduced into the world.
Here is one cluster of disciple qualifications, per Jesus himself:
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.
It’s clear that we have to fulfill ALL of the above, to be his disciple. Trying to fulfill doesn’t count, either.
Persecution and harm resulting from persecution aren’t the same thing.
Let’s consider a question that might be asked in the following format (which is fairly typical for this sort of question):
If you are a Christian in a work camp in North Korea and you read the protection scriptures it might seem that they are not true.
Here’s an analogous question:
If you are a Christian hospitalized with a life-threatening desease and you read the healing scriptures it might seem that they are not true.
The passages below are but one example where God actively doing something (causative sense) and God withholding something (allowing / permitting sense) are often times used in our translations of Old Covenant (or passages referring to OC ideas) grammatically interchangeably to indicate the same thing. There are some (somewhat hard-to-find online) preface notes to Young’s Literal and Rotherham translations that do go into detail on what Hebrew tenses should be translated as allowing vs. causative, but the religious establishment wasn’t too excited about those insights, so as far as I know you can find them only in the prefaces to the early editions (not in the translations themselves), and on the Internet, if you look hard enough. If you have access to Hebrew texts with parsings (anyone knows of an online resource with those? Please let me know if you do), studying out that angle could be a potential goldmine.
Let’s consider a passage that seem to have puzzled many sincere believers:
5 And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons:
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him;
6 For whom the Lord loves He chastens,
And scourges every son whom He receives.”
When we read a scripture passage where the verbs are in the passive voice – we should never just automatically assume that the agent behind the action is God, unless the text clearly indicates that. In some passages like James 1:12-14, vv. 13-14 clarified that God wasn’t behind “man being tempted”, but you won’t get that helpful hint every time:
This general cluster of questions does come up a good bit with all of us, at one point or another. So this needs to be carefully addressed.
I would like to look at James 1:12-14, which covers the issue of whether and how God tempts / tests us quite well.
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.