Tuesday, 12 October 2010

More homework for Sullivan

I have fallen behind in my work for Sullivan SU!  Sorry!

We've had a few questions relating to the issue of does God's knowledge and our freedom, e.g. If God knows what I am going to do then am I not free to do otherwise?
Well, this is a big subject, and I am certainly not going to get into it in depth here, but a wee point to make before going on with this is that we should not be surprised if there are unfathomable depths and inscrutable mysteries regarding God and His interaction with us, and eternity and its interface with time.
Now to the question.  It should be apparent that just because I have full knowledge of what is going to happen in a certain instance it doesn't mean I caused it.  I have full knowledge of what my children will pick if you offer them a choice between juice and coffee, but it doesn't mean I am responsible for their choice - it was their own.  Likewise, God's knowledge of future events doesn't necessitate that He caused them.  He knows what people will do in any set of circumstances and the choices they would freely make.  If their choices had have been otherwise then God would have known that.  However, it needs to be said that God is working to His own plan and accomplishing His own purpose in the universe, and it is not the case that it is just a big happy coincidence that the choices everyone makes just happen to fulfil the plan and fit the purpose that God had in mind.  Passages such as Genesis 50 v 20; Acts 2 v 23 and Acts 4 v 27-28 would show that somehow God is in control, even though people freely choose to do evil and are thoroughly responsible for their actions.
I am happy to admit defeat in my understanding on this one, and join the company of the apostle Paul who considered the whole subject and at the end said, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11 v 33).  So if your "understanding" of God's ways leaves no mystery then it's not a scriptural understanding.  Although there are mysteries, the evidence for the reality of the Gospel and the goodness, justice, and love of God allow me to rest in the fact that God will never behave in a way that is anything less than perfect.

"Are natural disasters an act of God?"
Hmmm, sometimes they are a direct intervention from God, for example, Acts 16 v 24-34.  But we are living in a day in which God is characteristically withholding judgment until the Lord's coming, at which time God will really shake the world (just have a read at the book of Revelation, particularly from chapter 6 to chapter 19).  It is perhaps the case then that the natural disasters are a consequence of living in a fallen world (see the post here), rather than a direct act of God's judgment.  However, no natural disaster surprises God, if He doesn't send it He certainly allows it, and we can have confidence that He has a purpose in it (Romans 8 v 28).  The book of Job tells us that the devil has a certain amount of power over the elements, but under the sovereign control of God (Job 1).

"Why doesn't God heal amputees?"
I think this incisive question exposes the modern so-called faith healing movement as not being all it claims to be.  If they have the gift of miraculous healing then restoring a lost body part should be within their capabilities, as it was something the Lord did (Luke 22 v 50-51), however, this is something that never happens today.  There are reasons for this: the nation of Israel had a God-given system of religious observances, and the Lord Jesus was the fulfilment of all those symbols and thus brought them to an end.  Now, imagine you were a Jew living in the first days of Christianity, you had a temple, sacrifices, rituals and ordinances which had been given by God, you would need some miraculous confirmation that it was ok to leave those things connected with the Old Covenant.  That is what God did through the apostles in their ministry to the Jews, as stated in Hebrews 2 v 3-4.
Also, God was giving these apostles new revelations of truth (found now in the New Testament), but it is an easy thing to say you have received a revelation from God, anyone could say it, and many people do.  However, God gave miraculous signs to confirm that these men were indeed His spokesmen.  The miracles were the signs that they were speaking from God and for God.  That's why Paul says that miraculous gifts are "the signs of an apostle" (2Corinthians 12 v 12).  Apostles were given at the foundation level of the church, they were personally commissioned by the risen Lord, and were the channels of the New Testament doctrine (Ephesians 2 v 20; 1Corinthians 9 v 1).  Because the New Testament is complete we have no further new revelations, and thus no need for miraculous sign gifts. 
Some may ask why God doesn't give the gift of healing today.  God is still free to heal, and no doubt He sometimes does, in miraculous ways, but the gift of healing is not in play today.  However, it isn't God's intention to remove all suffering from this world yet.  He will do that, but not now.  This world is the way it is because of the effects of sin, and God doesn't want to smooth the rough edges off (see posts here).  He wants us to realise things aren't as they should be.  It is therefore not necessarily the case that God is going to step in and heal the sick in a miraculous way.  Rather it is God's will that people turn to Him in the troubles, as well as using the people and resources He has made available to help us.  He will bring people through trials rather than bring them out of them.  God offers a world free from sickness and disease, but it's a world free from sin (Revelation 21 v 4, 27).  You can't have a world free from sin's effects without it being a world free from sin.  The wonderful thing is that, even though we have messed up this world, God offers to bring us to a world that can never be spoiled by sin.  Make sure you're on the right road, (John 14 v 6).

"Is stem cell research a good thing?"
The answer is yes, and it is morally not at all controversial.  I think the questioner is probably meaning to ask about embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).  This is another matter entirely, because this takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification and is therefore wrong.  In addition, stem cell research is yielding great benefits (confirmed by the fact that the private medical companies in the USA are putting their money behind it), while embryonic stem cell reseach is yielding nothing of value.  But even if ESCR was giving great results, it is wrong to take innocent human life to achieve it.  Scientifically and logically the embryo can be nothing other than a human being at the earliest stage of development, but just because a human being is not fully developed doesn't mean you can kill him.  I have three sons who are at early stages of development, is it legitimate to take their lives in order to help others?  Do they not deserve protection?  To ask the question is to answer it - of course they deserve protection, of course we can't kill them based on their size or age.  The right to life doesn't become yours when you reach a certain age or size.  The right to life is yours when you have life, and that is from conception.  I encourage you to click on the link here and have a read - it will go into the issue in more depth and with greater clarity.