(continued from part 1)
Paul says that he will gladly boast in his infirmities, as a counter-argument of boasting in his strength. Here, the word “infirmities” has nothing to do with sickness, since sickness is not even discussed anywhere in the passage, and doesn’t even fit with the context of what was being said. The Greek word for weakness is “astheneia”, which literally means “lack of strength”. Paul is pointing to his lack of strength in the natural that would be adequate for dealing with this issue at hand, which is a series of satan-originated violent acts against him. Religious people followed him from city to city, stirred up crowds against Paul, which ended in brutality and violence toward Paul, including being stoned (in a non-narcotic way).
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.
God isn’t in the business of killing, especially children, he’s in the business of restoring and healing. Also, he is a gentleman, not a violator, so he most definitely won’t violate one’s free will. If one’s free will could be violated, there would be no original sin in the garden of Eden – it was a matter of free choice.
With that said, there were times in ancient Israel’s history when certain military operations were carried out, and as with every war there was violence.
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.