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Reflections on Suffering & the Sovereignty of God: a momentary detour for deeper clarification…

Having used one of my own analogies on human ‘will’ in a recent blog post in this series, utilizing the bicyclist attempting to avoid a drunk driver, I thought of another useful analogy when considering the relationship of God’s will to human will: the Scriptures themselves.

When we read the Scripture, we immediately recognize its human origin. For instance, Peter wrote in chapter 2, verse 16, of his second letter;“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Notice who is doing the “telling” – Peter, who is claiming that his testimony should be believed NOT BECAUSE GOD IS SPEAKING THROUGH HIM, but because he was an eyewitness to the things of which he wrote. Also, in 1 Peter 1:10-11, he speaks of the Old Testament prophets searching “intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing…” Here, again, human effort is put into seeking out the truth that was then written down for us.

The human origin of the Bible is made even clearer by passages such as Luke 1:3-4. Here he states; “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Here, not only do we see the author speaking of his own effort in researching the events about which he wrote, but that the book was a personal letter, written to a specific individual, Theophilus, by a specific individual, Paul’s disciple, Luke. In fact, many of the New Testament books in particular are letters to either individuals or churches, each displaying the authors’ own styles, personalities, and concerns.

In all reality, the human origin of the Scripture is so clear that no case really needs to be made for it, but that is not ALL the Bible is…

Isaiah 51:16 says; “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand– I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, `You are my people.’”Hebrews 1:1-3 speaks to this when it says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” The Bible is overflowing with the words “thus sayeth the Lord.” In fact, Robert Reymond, a professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary, counted more than 3,800 time in the Old Testament alone where the writer’s message is introduced with some form or another of “the mouth of the Lord has spoken”, “the Lord says”, “the Lord spoke”, “hear the word of the Lord”, “thus the Lord has shown to me”, or “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying…”

The Bible seems to claim for itself, therefore, not to be merely a just another book written by men, but rather a book chronicling the works and words of a God who SPEAKS. The authors weren’t left playing a total guessing game as to the nature and purpose of the God about which they wrote. The author’s didn’t write about a distant Greek god, or a god of their imagination, but they wrote about the God of revelation – a God that they purport to have KNOWN in a ‘personal’ way.

We notice that Paul claims God’s authority for he and the Apostles’ own words in 1 Thessalonians 2:13; “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” In fact, Scripture is so closely equated with the very words of God that when the New Testament quotes the Old to say “God said” or “(the human author) said” are virtually interchangeable.

Why is this? Because Scripture is “God-breathed.” 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”, and much has been said about this. I’ve been told numerous times by others that we simply don’t know WHAT “God-breathed” means. Well, if understood in a literal sense, the Greek here – and I am not a Greek scholar but am trusting the scholarship of others – has the sense not that God “breathed into” the words of man, as He breathed life into Adam, but rather that he “breathed out” the words of Scripture through men. If this is true, we can only affirm that in some sense the human authored words of Scripture are God’s very own. B. B. Warfield wrote, “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the divine Spirit and heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.”

It is also clear that the words of the Bible are much more than just normal human prose because, for instance, mishandling As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, great book though it may be, will not likely have negative eternal consequences for your soul. However, Peter, when referring to Paul’s letters states in 2 Peter 3:15-16; “…our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Notice here that Peter, long before the canonization of the New Testament, and most likely even before the writing of the four Gospels, already considers Paul’s letters to be of the same quality as the Old Testament Scriptures – and equally dangerous if misunderstood or misused.

Is it logically consistent to believe that the Bible was truly written by men, and yet is fully the Word of God?  Yes, in as much as it is also logically consistent to believe that God is absolutely sovereign, yet man is responsible for his own actions. Isn’t it true, that if God totally overwhelmed a human, and dictated Scripture through them, that that text would not be the words of men at all? But clearly this isn’t the case – again, we see the author’s own personalities, styles, and concerns ALL OVER the Scripture.

The authors of the Gospels were all eyewitnesses or disciples of eyewitnesses to the life or resurrected life of Jesus. They not only relied on their own experience and memories, which Jesus promised would be quickened by the Spirit, but, as Luke mentions, also relied upon other eyewitness accounts of the events that had taken place. Now, though the Spirit of God might have led Luke to have a great concern for Theophilus, and thus given him the desire to write to him an “orderly account”, and the Spirit also was at reminding his apostolic sources of all that Jesus had taught (John 14:26) and leading them “into all understanding”( John 16:12-13), the desire to write, and the words themselves would be Luke’s very own. In fact, even to get an inerrant Bible, all God would have to do is suppress ideas and concepts in the minds of the authors that might be misleading to their audience or misrepresent the truth! This is not outside the way God sometimes works; regularly God redirected Paul by blocking him from going one way or another during his missionary journeys. If so, can the Holy Spirit not also block a neural pathway in the brain, so a certain faulty or misleading idea might not be retrievable? So, if this were how God inspired the Gospels, what you would have is this; Jesus as God taught the importance of spreading the good news, to which Luke was responding by writing an account of the Good News for Theophilus. The content of the Gospel, though remembered in detail and understood by the apostles by the aid of the Spirit, was researched and written by Luke’s own effort. The teachings contained within that Gospel would reflect the mind of God for they are the words and acts of God working in the world through Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. God, by suppressing content or ideas that might be misleading, maintains that Luke’s letter to Theophilus contains nothing more than what God wants conveyed. However, Luke himself is choosing terms, ordering sentences, and doing the writing reflecting his own style and concerns. If this were so, the whole content, message, and truth of the text of Luke would be from God, yet written by a man using his own skills ultimately of his own free-will. This being one possible route for God to have worked, and containing no logical inconsistencies, we are perfectly reasonable in saying that the Scripture is both the words of men AND the Word of God.

And, then – if we believe that the Bible, a book written by sinful men – which even documents many sinful acts – can be the ‘Word of God’, why do we find it hard to believe that the same God, in allowing sin and suffering, cannot maintain His sovereign control and direction over and through it all?  I think He can, and does.

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One Response

  1. Great stuff.

    And I tried to comment on the post a couple of posts back where you asked, “What do you think?” I was going to tell you what I thought but the comments are locked on that post. What is that all about?

    Anyway, I think suffering is no accident. If I thought that what I’d suffered was accidental I’d not be able to love God very much, I don’t think. I mean, what if I fall down and break my neck and I look at that as just an accident? No one’s fault. Just part of living in a fallen world. Certainly something God bears reponsibility for.

    But then I’d have to wonder: if it was just an accident and it wasn’t given to me as a special grace from God to strengthen me or correct me, why didn’t God stop it? Why did you he allow such a terrible accident?

    The reason I can obey God and rejoice when I face trials of many kinds is that I know the trials are bringing me to maturity. I know that they are given by a loving father for my good.

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