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Revelation 16: The Choice to Turn Away

Revelation 16 brings us to Armageddon.

Rev 16:16  And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

Rev 16:17  And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.

Rev 16:18  And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.

Rev 16:19  And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.

Rev 16:20  And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found.

Rev 16:21  And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent: and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great.

It is interesting that even after everything that has happened throughout this book, people are still not willing to acknowledge God. People are still going to curse God rather than recognize that they need to get themselves right with God.

From the beginning, sinfulness has been a human problem. Free will that was abused brought about a world that was fallen and plagued by sin. It created the separation between God and man, and Jesus Christ provided the bridge to bring people back to God if they are willing to again make the free decision to repent.

Even at the end, there are going to be people who will not make that decision. Obviously, that is a terrible thing, but with the gift of free will that we were given, there is the potential for people to turn away.

Romans 9: God’s Freedom

People don’t like to talk about condemnation. Specifically, many people have a hard time with the doctrine of hell. They don’t understand how a loving God could banish people away from Himself for all eternity simply because they did not trust Him. Romans 9 might be able to give a little bit of insight into this dilemma.

Rom 9:20  Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?

Rom 9:21  Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

Rom 9:22  What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:

This does point out something very important. If God is the creator, then He has the right to do whatever He wants with His creation. When an artist is unhappy with a painting, many times he or she will paint over the entire canvas and start over or eliminate certain parts of the original piece of work. Even though we might not understand why the artist was unhappy with a piece of artwork, it is not as if the artist as done something wrong. After all, all of those rights belong to the artist.

God is a similar way. Even if we do not understand His mind, doesn’t He have the right to do whatever He wants with what He has created?

Of course, even though many people might be willing to affirm that God has these rights, they still might wonder why God would create people who would ultimately reject Him. After all, is it not possible that God would have created only people who He would ultimately have in heaven with Him? Even from a free will perspective, is it possible that God could have known ahead of time that certain people would choose freely to reject God, and God could have never created them?

I don’t know that that’s possible. That would not really be freedom. The only people who therefore would have been created would have been engineered in a sense by God to be the ones who would choose God. Again, God has the freedom to do whatever He wants, but if He decided to truly give people free will, there has to be an alternative for people who choose not to follow Him.

To bring this all together then, God has ultimate freedom as we see in Romans 9, and it seems to be the case that God has given human beings free will. Therefore, given that gift of free will, it is contradictory that God would then compel everyone to follow Him. Compulsion is not free.

Jeremiah 22: Do We Have Control?

I am going to spend our discussion on Jeremiah 22 responding to something I wrote the other day. The other day, I wrote about how God knows the future, and He doesn’t change. However, I also mentioned in that article that I do believe in the free will of humanity. We see a little bit of backing for that today.

Jer 22:3  Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.

Jer 22:4  For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people.

Jer 22:5  But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.

These are words that God told Jeremiah to speak to the King, and they certainly seem to imply that there is still a choice to be made. There is still a chance to save Judah apparently.

However, it is worth mentioning that earlier in this book, the fall of Judah and Jerusalem had already been prophesied, so this actually might be a testimony to God knowing the future. This statement would be entirely true given that it is from God, but He already knows that the words will be ignored. As a result, this could just be God explaining what they had given up or what they would be giving up because of their bad decisions. God already knew that they were not going to choose to follow Him, but He is telling them now so that when the actually experience the things that come from their own rebellion, they will recognize that they had made a wrong decision.

Regardless, that isn’t really my main concern. How do we reconcile God telling people that we have a choice to make while simultaneously understanding that God knows everything and the future already has happened from the perspective of God? If the future is already written in His mind, do we really have free will at all?

On some level, I think that this question is beyond human comprehension. I say that because God exists outside of time, but everything we understand is based in time. Therefore, it is incomprehensible for us to think about everything being in the present. For God, since He is timeless, His foreknowledge is of an entirely different sort than we would consider foreknowledge in linear time. That makes it almost like comparing apples and oranges.

However, that being said, I don’t think that this fact that God knows the future ultimately removes our human free will either. Mainly, I say that because of the wide variety of New Testament passages that refer to receiving the gift of salvation. It seems incredibly clear from the text that there is a choice to be made here, and by being responsible for making that choice, you have your own will.

There is obviously tension here, but I don’t think that it is irreconcilable. Yes, God does know everything, and He does have a plan. He knew that even when Jeremiah spoke the words above, the people would still not listen. However, at the same time, we also have a responsibility to make choices that honor God and are the objectively right choices. The King and people were responsible for ignoring the words of God, and they were punished accordingly. It would not be just if they were punished for things that they had no control over. We know that God is just, so it seems to point towards human responsibility on some level.

I probably did not provide you with any type of answers today, but I also do not think that we need to be afraid of engaging with this question. It might be the case that we cannot humanly understand how this works. We do not know very much about ruling universes set in linear time from outside of time, so from that perspective, it might not be surprising whatsoever that we don’t have a perfect grasp on the exact nature of this relationship. However, we do know facts, and those ought to influence our behavior. God knows everything from the beginning to the end. He holds all the world and all time. At the same time, as beings that exists inside of that system, we have the ultimate obligation to follow God based on a choice and commitment that we make freely.

Jeremiah 18: Does God Change His Mind?

Why don’t we dive into some controversy today? That is always fun, and Jeremiah 18 gives us a very good opportunity to begin to think about the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.

Jer 18:3  Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels.

Jer 18:4  And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.

Jer 18:5  Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

Jer 18:6  O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.

Jer 18:7  At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it;

Jer 18:8  If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.

Jer 18:9  And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it;

Jer 18:10  If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them.

I think that this is a complicated issue on a few levels. A very basic reading of this passage almost implies that we as humans define the actions of God. If we act a certain way, then God will change His mind. One could argue that this is almost what you see in the story of Nineveh. God was going to destroy the city, but when the people repented, He decided not to. In the opposite direction, in the cases of Sodom and Gomorrah, if there was one righteous person to be found, God said that He was willing to call off His imminent destruction. Obviously the destruction came, but it does seem to imply that perhaps there was room for negotiation in that based upon the choices that humans made.

This is a difficult passage because at the same time, the clay of the world is entirely in the hands of God. God has control over what He does, so there is an interesting balance here. On one hand, He seems to take human actions into consideration, but He also holds the freedom of being the one who ultimately makes the decision.

However, there is another level to this discussion as well that needs to be taken into consideration. God is omniscient. He knows all things, and He even those things that have happened yet.

Isa 46:9  Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,

Isa 46:10  Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

Now we have a little bit of a dilemma. On one hand, God is indeed in charge of the world. He holds the world in hand, and He makes decisions that impact the world. On the other hand, He knows what is going to happen according to Isaiah, and that would include knowledge of who was going to repent and who was not going to repent. For example, God would have known that the people of Nineveh were going to repent. Even though Jonah did not know that, God would have. Therefore, God also knew that He was not going to destroy the city of Nineveh. I guess that raises the question then why He continually told Jonah that He was going to, and did God really change His mind?

It seems to me that an important way to look at this is to remember that the ways of God are not the ways of man. For us, it seems like God changes His mind. In the case of Nineveh, all indications were that God was going to destroy them, but then He did not. However, God knew all along that He would not destroy Nineveh because they would repent. In that sense, He did not change His mind whatsoever.

You might say that God was dishonest then. Why did He tell Jonah all of that about destruction if it really wasn’t necessary?

Dishonesty is not part of the equation here because God was not dishonest. If they did not repent, then they would have been destroyed. That is true. Their conduct deserved punishment as much as today we talk about people needing to come to the cross and be reconciled through the saving work of Jesus Christ. God was not dishonest about the consequences of disobedience.

Also, in the case of Jonah, God knew that He was going to use Jonah as the one to deliver the message of repentance to the people in Nineveh. Jonah was part of the metanarrative that God has written. Sure, God could have brought the people of Nineveh to repentance in a different way. He could have used a different messenger or method, but again we come back to this image of the master potter in Jeremiah. This was part of the plan.

I have already written more words then you probably want to read, and I don’t want to drag on forever, but I think the next step of the equation is to define this relationship between human free will and predestination. Today, we only scratched the surface by looking at how, whether or not humans have free will, God does not change. Even though it might seem that way from our human perspective, God is indeed sovereign. He is ultimately in charge of the universe, and even if humans do have free will (which I believe we do), we do not define His actions. He does not change His mind.

Isaiah 59: The Choice of Following

I know that there is sometimes a major divide in the church between those who would believe in Calvinism, Arminianism or something in the middle. I still haven’t entirely figured out where I come down on it, but as I was reading Isaiah 59, we hear a little bit more about this division between God and man and why it is there.

Isa 59:1  Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:

Isa 59:2  But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

Isa 59:3  For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue hath muttered perverseness.

Isa 59:4  None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity.

Isa 59:5  They hatch cockatrice’ eggs, and weave the spider’s web: he that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.

Isa 59:6  Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works: their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands.

Isa 59:7  Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths.

Isa 59:8  The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.

I know that there were a lot of verses there, but I found this passage incredibly interesting because in terms of basic formulation, it begins a lot like the general problem of evil. People ask if God isn’t powerful enough or not aware enough to prevent evil. We have kind of a similar question here. Is it not possible for God to save the people, or does He not realize that the people need saving?

It seems as if the problem is the choices that the people have made. For example, in verse four, they end up trusting in vanity. They are running to evil, and there has been destruction. At least to me it seems that we are talking about some dimension of human choice here. It is not that God cannot provide the deliverance they are looking for, but the people have made a choice to do other things, and God is allowing them to have the outcomes they are chasing.

Obviously, I am still processing this entire concept in my head, and I seem to go back and forth quite a bit, so this isn’t meant to be my definitive position. However, I found it very interesting that they formulate this argument very much but the problem of evil. God is more than able to provide deliverance, and He is certainly a personal God who knows what is going on around the world. Nevertheless, sinful people have made their choices, so they are being allowed to follow that path as well.

Psalms 81: Who Is in Control?

I know that there is a large debate regarding whether or not we truly have free will or are predestined. It generally relates to salvation, but it can also relate by extension to our everyday lives. This kind of discussion has caused a lot of controversy over the years, and it is not an easy one to resolve. Psalms 81 is going to take us close to it.

Psa 81:8  Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me;

Psa 81:9  There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god.

Psa 81:10  I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.

Psa 81:11  But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.

Psa 81:12  So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.

Psa 81:13  Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!

It is interesting, because you actually see a little bit of both disciplines in this passage.

On one hand, you have the people not listening to God. It definitely sounds like it is a decision to not listen to God. Beyond that, it sounds like there could have been a different outcome if we go to the end of the chapter.

Psa 81:14  I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries.

Psa 81:15  The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever.

Psa 81:16  He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.

The result could have been different if the people made a different decision. God would have subdued their enemies if they had followed Him. It does seem to imply that there was a decision to be made here. It does not sound like the outcome was already known, or there would be no point in saying what God would have done. T evil he people made the decision to not listen to the voice of God, and the results were different.

However, we need to reconcile that with verse 12 then. God gave the people up which implies control over them. In order to follow these evil ways, it seems as if God had to give them up on some level. You’re obviously left with the question, were they really free if God had to give them up?

At the same time, we can go back in the other direction. If they were making decisions that made God want to give them up, then it seems that they were probably doing out of their own free will. If they were doing the will of God, then why would God give them up?

I don’t know about you, but I found this passage very interesting. There are certainly some dimensions of free will in this passage. The people were ignoring God. They were making a choice to do that. However, at the same time, God let them go in order to allow them to truly continue living in this way. He was ultimately sovereign over the entire process.

This is a tough one, and I think I’m going to leave it for today, but keep thinking about this issue. I’m sure that we will see it again.

Leviticus 19: We Need to Choose to Follow God

Leviticus 19 had one particular verse that really stood out to me among all the rest.

Lev 19:5  And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the LORD, ye shall offer it at your own will.

I know that this verse is talking about sacrifices, but it made me think about Christianity today. In particular, it made me think about cultural Christianity. I know that I wrote yesterday about cultural conflict, but cultural Christianity is another interesting topic.

Some people are Christians because everyone around them are Christians. They go to church because the family does or they like to see the other church members, but they have never actually claimed Jesus as their own and actually decided to follow. They are only playing along because the culture around them embraces Christianity.

I don’t absolutely want to condemn this because this is definitely not a bad thing and that easily can be the first step towards leading people toward Jesus, but I do want to say that hanging out with Christians doesn’t make you a Christian. It needs to be something that you as a person accept as truth.

Joh 3:16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

This is obviously one of the more famous Bible verses, but it emphasizes this truth. The belief needs to be there for whosoever will have eternal life. That personal belief is absolutely necessary.

We need to choose to follow God, and it isn’t nearly enough for our parents or loved ones to follow God. Salvation is nontransferable. However, even the worst sinner (although we are all equal as being the worst) can be forgiven, and that is pretty amazing to say the least.

I understand that God knows ahead of time who will believe in Him, so there is some sense of predestination from His perspective, but from our perspective, we need to make a conscious choice to follow God. However, it needs to be our choice. Nobody else can do it for us.