dirty words

Posted: August 14th, 2010 | Filed under: life | 18 Comments »

There is an absolute truth and, according to scripture, there are depths and widths that we don’t understand. So, in all of my studying, experiencing and thinking, I may feel like I’ve got a good grip on this case, but there are always brick walls that my mind bangs up against. No one has it figured out, but we can dialogue about our perspectives, collaborate our eye witness accounts and grow from each other. In dialogue, your culture and experience are the glasses of your perspective.

My own experience has broadened my perspective. I have encountered something that has taken the assurance out of my understanding and introduced the overwhelming possibility that lies within the purposes of God. I’ve lived this truth:

Our God is in heaven doing whatever he wants to do. -Psalm 115:3


There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. -1 John 4:18

Scripture tells us that there is something wrong with our relationship with God if we fear death or punishment. Why? Is it because we fear the unknown?

The main source of unease during any conversation about predestination is our ‘free will’. Free will is a will entirely separate from God’s will. It’s usually accompanied by the belief that God does not know what will happen next and that a person can choose to give birth to something that is not in God’s plan.

My thought process with that is…

  • How can I not fear?
  • Am I supposed to trust God?
  • Trust Him to do and be what?

If there is no sovereign control, then He has no control. He can say a lot of things, but He cannot make things happen. There are too many ‘free wills’ out there that can trump God’s plan. If everybody isn’t obeying God, then there’s nothing He can do.

  • Is He only God when people obey?
  • Am I supposed to trust God because He’s in control?

Now there’s a contradiction to contend.

  • What does it mean to say that God is in control?
  • How is that even possible if He’s not?
  • Does He have limited control?
  • Is God limited?

The challenge is in understanding our free will.

  • Free will to do what?
  • What happens to our free will when we exert it and are stopped by circumstances beyond our control?
  • Is Someone else controlling them?
  • What does that say about free will?
  • What happens when we don’t want to do something?
  • Doesn’t the Holy Spirit work in such a way that you are restless without obeying?
  • Can you, personally, really disobey forever?
  • How small have you made God that you can take credit for your obedience?

At what point does your pride get in the way of understanding all of this? Pride, as in: I’m the boss of myself. I choose. You could say that if you choose to disobey, then you are the one who has to pay the penalty, so it does fall on your obedience. The only problem is, you don’t have to pay the penalty. The same person who is in control is the one who paid your penalty.

Who is in control when God closes up a perfectly capable womb in one woman and burst through the tied tubes of another? Who is in control when the man shot himself in his face should have died, but lived to drive himself to the hospital? What about the man who drove his golf cart under a tree and was struck by a falling branch and died?

What do people mean when they face failure with ‘I guess it wasn’t God’s will‘?

What about evil? The common question is ‘If God is good and in control, then why is there evil? Isn’t that evidence that He’s clearly not in control?

  • Is He not handling things to your liking?
  • Evil happens, yet God works evil out for good. Where does that fit in?
  • Is His work finished or not?
  • Meaning: Is He scrambling after the disobedient and righting their wrongs or has He finished, as He claims, and we’re living what is done?
  • If God is speaking from Eternity, where everything IS, then what does He not know?
  • If He’s omniscient (all knowing) how does it work to say that God does not know what we’ll do?
  • Are you bigger than eternity so that you can do things outside of what eternity knows?
  • Do you not exist in eternity?

When you consider predestination…

  • how does that make you feel?
  • Does is make you feel smaller and Him bigger?
  • Does it make scriptures about trust, faith, peace, rest and assurance come to life?

If you consider free will as the ultimate decisive nature…

  • where does that put God?
  • Doesn’t that make the holder of the ‘free will’ God or at least equals?
  • Isn’t that what the serpent told Eve?

‘Free will’ according to Webster’s is: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or divine intervention.

So, what about this:

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. -Proverbs 16:9

There are four verses in the KJV (olde trusty) that teach predestination in all of it’s annoying controversy and there are zero that talk about ‘free will’. However, just to be thorough, there are 17 that mention ‘freewill’ which means ‘voluntarily’, but all but one are talking about an offering and they’re all in the Old Testament (cuz that matters to some.) The exclusion was in a letter in Ezra from one man to another saying people should not be forced to go Jerusalem for a gathering, but only if they want to.

I’m giving a nod to Philip Yancey when I use this example from his book, ‘Rumors of Another World‘:

We have about as much ‘free will’ as a field of sheep. They choose the grass they eat, who they mate with and what tree they stand under. To every extent of their understanding, they are freely choosing what they want. But there is a farmer who sits in his house and plans what field to pen his sheep in. He is the one who built the fence. He chooses what females need to mate with what males and makes sure they’re together. He doesn’t take away their ability to choose when He orchestrates their environment. He makes sure they’re cared for and that his plan for their lives and purpose are carried out just as he set out. It’s one nature that is supernatural to another. The sheep to the farmer. The people to their God.

If He is able to still be God and give you freedom to make choices, doesn’t that make Him bigger? Doesn’t that kind of freak you out a little?

I’ve left a lot of space for conversation, so go for it. Just be nice about it or the farmer will come out and shave you.

I wrote this of my own free will, by the way…. or did I?



18 Comments on “dirty words”

  1. 1 Shelly said at 6:48 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    My head is spinning! You are definitly making me think. If predestination is real, that means I can relax. I want to relax. I SO need it. I have some thinking to do. A lot of praying and thinking.

    Thank you.

  2. 2 Serena Woods said at 6:51 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    Good! It gets tiresome trying to do it all on your own.

  3. 3 Charissa Steyn said at 7:06 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    Great discussion 🙂 Love the questions. Don't know what I think yet 🙂 Free will is something I thought I had, but I love the illustration of Philip Yancey, this helped me to put free will in God's perspective! Interesting…

  4. 4 Caleb Holgerson said at 8:05 pm on August 14th, 2010:

    This subject has been on my mind a lot lately. Something that I struggle with believing is: if predestination is real, then that means God created some people specifically to go to hell.

    Why would I want to serve a god like that?

  5. 5 Serena Woods said at 12:11 am on August 15th, 2010:

    Caleb, I understand where you're coming from. However, I'm not convinced that there is a facet about God, should I wish it to not be true and find that it is, that would make me not believe in Him. I don't feel that my belief originates in me and it's not something I can control. Believing in Him draws me to Him and the intense spiritual nature of it all puts me in complete submission out of awe and Godly fear. The core of who I am, which is entirely separate from my mental capacity, knows that I only exist because of Him and to serve Him.

    You've brought up the inevitable 'election' or 'chosen' topic. I'll keep my answer short, but there are a few points of scripture that stand out to me:

    "Jesus answered them, "Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." Jesus, John 6:43-44 ESV

    You can't choose God unless He chooses you.

    "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me" -Jesus, John 44:38-39 ESV

    Assuming that Jesus completed the will of God, whoever God gave to Jesus chose/is choosing/will choose Him and Jesus will not lose any of them. (except for Judas, but that another controversial blog)

    In John 6, Jesus was teaching these things to His followers and some of them thought it was too 'out there'. He knew some didn't believe what He was saying, so He said:

    "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." -Jesus, John 6:65 ESV

    According to Isaiah 43:1-4, God traded Egypt for Israel, just to show His love for His chosen people.

    God said He 'hated Esau and loved Jacob' before they were out of the womb. (Malachi 1 and Romans 9)

    It's not just people He gives as ransom, He gave His Son, too.

    It's hard to not let emotion get in the way of actually grasping what the scriptures say. It's probably better to not rely on our own understanding and lean on the belief that God must have some unknown (to us), yet just, good and right reason for what He does.

  6. 6 Serena Woods said at 12:14 am on August 15th, 2010:

    Philip Yancey is great. I’m glad I made you think. 🙂

  7. 7 Katie said at 3:03 am on August 15th, 2010:

    I've had a line from the song, "I will not forget you" by Enter the Worship Circle in my head all day today…"Nothing is impossible with you"…Nothing is impossible with God. So, even though it's difficult for us to understand His ways with our minds, our logic. We know this His ways are greater than ours.

    There are things about Him that we will never understand, and I'm okay with that.

  8. 8 Love Letters to Jesu said at 1:39 pm on August 15th, 2010:

    I think the problem with "predestination" is that it allows some people to get lazy. "Oh well, whatever happens in my life was predestined and I can't do anything about it." I don't see that as the type of attitude God would want us to have. Not only that, but there is real evil in the world that can take you into the wrong direction if you don't actively fight againts it/resist the devil.

    I do think that when you allow yourself to think about predestination it can be frightening if you want to be in control. And even if you think you don't care about being in control, really think about your whole life being predestined (it's all in God's cards and nothing you do matters to sway the outcome because the outcome has already been determined) and I bet you'll find you do want to be in control to a degree.

    Again, I agree that God knows what you are going to do with your life long before you were even born, so in that way it is all predestined, but I do believe it can be a dangerous thing to become complacent to that and use that as an excuse to give up and just let life go anyway it wants.


  9. 9 Yoga Mama said at 2:03 pm on August 15th, 2010:

    I've heard all the arguments around this and it's always based on 'what if' and 'I can't imagine'. They're adding uncontrollable and extreme uncertainty to argue the possibility of certainty. It's like an open book test in school. There is the fear that the student won't learn anything if they don't have to study. If a test is worth the bulk of the grade, then why make it to wear they can pass the test? What the teacher knows is that if a student knows that it's not about the assignments and it's not about the test, but about what they've learned, then at least they'll have to look up the answers and go through every question with the awareness that if they have no excuse if they fail because it's all right in front of them, they just have to go through it.

    Wow, I really hope that makes as much sense to you as it does to me. Predestination doesn't take away your responsibility or even DESIRE to live your best life. It actually frees you up to do so, especially knowing that there is NOTHING out there than can defeat you. Isn't that what Jesus taught?

    I've thought about this a lot and love that there is a conversation going about it. Thanks SO MUCH, Serena.

    Maybe instead of worrying how eternal assurance and peace would affect others, just focus on how it affects you. It's crazy to think that you wouldn't want people to know that they are taken care of just because you think they won't be responsible enough to handle it. Whaaat? Lie to them so they are afraid of failure and judgment? Isn't that the verse Serena used that illustrates a broken relationship with God?

    Alright, I'll stop. 🙂

  10. 10 Serena Woods said at 2:27 pm on August 15th, 2010:

    Katie: Awesome. 🙂

    Nell: Great thoughts.

    Yoga Mama: Love it.

    Okay, I have a scenario:

    Let's say that God planned out your day. He has tasks He wants you to complete and He wants you to use your training and see what 'nature' you'll use to get through your obstacles.

    The interesting bit is, He tells you that you can't mess anything up no matter what, He just wants you to do your best and not worry. He'll make sure you have what you need when you need it. And He'll catch you and restore you if you make a mistake.

    So, you wonder, what's the point? Is this all just a wild goose chase? You can't do extra to get ahead, you can't mess it up if you fall behind, nothing is unfixable and it's all a learning experience designed to make you who you were created to be.

    Performance is taken out, failure has lost its power, doing everything right doesn't earn your way. Suddenly legalism is useless. Now, you're faced with obedience based on relationship, not reward. And grace based on assurance, not on the proper amount of sorrow and penance. And you can believe Jesus when He says that there is absolutely nothing to fear because He knows who He is and He's trying to show you who He is so you can go further in assurance instead of being held back by fear.

    It's the essence of: Why are you following Christ? What is it for? If this is all a wild goose chase, would you still follow Him? The idea of predestination makes the raw truth of those answers apparent.

    If someone is going to get lazy, then they can deal with the real issue: perseverance for what you're getting or perseverance for who you're serving?

  11. 11 Demas said at 8:03 pm on August 15th, 2010:

    It seems to me that given God's thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, (Ps 139) that we cannot synthesize in our human minds the fullness of His spiritual truths. They are spiritually discerned, through faith. (1 Cor 2) Yes, we are asked to use our human minds to discern—we were given our minds to do just that. But at the same time, God's methods are generally designed to build our faith and reliance on Him. As such, much of what we think we know will fly out the window if/when we are able to see real spiritual truths, perhaps as a result of our resurrection bodies. Of course, God already knows our limitations and that is why he is trying constantly to get us to stop leaning on our own understanding, but acknowledge His wisdom in all things. (Pr 3:5-6)

    Given all that, my flesh can easily accept either T.U.L.I.P. or F.A.C.T.S. because they are both rooted in the scripture and they are both coherent. My mind can get behind one of them and I can stay there, content with my nicely derived acronym. The one I choose will probably be based on whether I like God's mercy or sovereignty more. But by sticking with the acronym, my spirit will atrophy from a lack of faith. It seems that because both Calvinism and Arminianism are coherent and rooted in the scripture, I need to take that as a hint to accept them both equally as part of a unified, if paradoxical, whole. This is difficult for my flesh to accept because I would have to employ para-consistent logic or dialetheism in order to resolve the opposing premises in my head. And even then I'll be laughed at by other men in their flesh, because those logics aren't popular.

    God's thoughts are like a higher-dimensional geometric shape which can't be perceived wholly by our 3-dimensional minds. Like the tesseract, we can analyze it somewhat, but can't experience it directly. Interestingly, when a 4D object is projected into 3D space, the 3D person will perceive it at first as a disjointed mess, because the person is only seeing the outer edges. You see the edges as floating in space with nothing holding them together. They truly are separate according to 3D geometry. It is only as more of the object passes into 3D space that the disparate parts are perceived as being whole (although not all of it can be projected into 3D at a time). Yet they were whole all along. Think of dipping your fingers into water. A creature that can only experience the surface plane of the water would first see several shapes representing your fingers. After your hand is fully immersed, the 5 circles will coalesce into one. It will be logical to the creature that the 5 circles are distinct and different from one another. But in reality it is a unified whole.

    Spiritual truths are similar in nature I think. And I think they are revealed in their semi-hidden way in order to draw us further to God and thereby increase our faith. That's what God wants anyway. So, I hold both Calvinist and Arminian views simultaneously, through faith. (I am also a huge fan of Luis de Molina)

  12. 12 Serena Woods said at 5:51 pm on August 16th, 2010:

    I love how deep you got. 🙂

    I love thinking about this stuff and studying scripture and letting this picture grow.

  13. 13 TheNorEaster said at 9:55 pm on August 16th, 2010:

    When you said something similiar in your book, I wanted to throw it across the room.

    After losing three people to suicide, I really don't have much to say about predestination or free will.

    Throw in a friend with multiple personality disorder without co-consciousness who became a suicide victim and, well…

    …All I can say is most of the people who talk about these things don't know what they're talking about; they just keep banging their heads against brick walls…

  14. 14 TheNorEaster said at 10:03 pm on August 16th, 2010:

    Think about this: all those people who think they understand the free will of humanity next to divine sovereignty cannot even tell you how aspirin works.

  15. 15 Serena Woods said at 5:32 am on August 17th, 2010:

    No one can put a limit on pain or healing. You have experienced more than most.

  16. 16 Sisterlisa said at 6:54 am on August 17th, 2010:

    Serena, I think if you and I sat down for a conversation we'd need a few pots of coffee. I have asked all those same questions and even more. I spent 5 hours in dialogue with someone about this very thing ..just yesterday.

    His Spirit is definitely moving in people…millions of believers..who are becoming bold and brave to ask clergy the same questions…and leaving..for their own individual walkabouts with God. He is becoming their Teacher…as it was always meant to be. Keep asking those questions.

    Predestination is just one fragment of the picture…the greatest portrait of all time. And only those he draws close,will see it in it's full beauty ..while on earth…A beauty he wants everyone to see..each in their own turn. A depth and width of his inner heart.. to enter..we need to cease from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

  17. 17 Serena Woods said at 11:57 am on August 17th, 2010:

    There is just a lot of fear for people when they think about 'predestination'. Fear that people won't try anymore. Fear that the balm of bitterness for harm done to them may not be validated by their Father.

  18. 18 Sisterlisa said at 4:44 am on August 20th, 2010:

    They don't understand there is no more 'trying' only resting. "Rest in Christ' is not something that happens when we die..we have that now. Sure we live life in such a way that respects ourselves and others around us..I'm certainly not meaning we give up all appropriate living. Apporpriate living is good for relationships. But even when we mess up, He's got us covered. That's not to say we should go out and wrecklessly live in the flesh..that has it's consequences. And as far as others are concerned..God is certainly able to reveal himself to whoever He chooses with or without a human getting involved. And that is not to say that we should cease from talking about Him…I don't stifle my heart and voice in the presence of others. I speak openly about those I love and that includes Father. 🙂

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