Saturday, September 29, 2007

An Imaginary Conversation

The evening before last I was able to attend one of the most thought-provoking lectures I have heard in a long time. Catherine Gallagher, an English professor at Berkeley University in California, is an expert in Victorian literature and of Jane Austen’s collected works. Mrs. Gallagher’s presentation was inspired from a brief section from Austen’s Mansfield Park wherein she attempts to demonstrate that Austen was hinting at a desire to engage the slave trade discussion that was taking place in England.

Professor Gallagher read aloud a fictitious dialogue that she brilliantly composed between the characters in Mansfield Park, as if Jane Austen had decided to include such a discussion. Gallagher showed herself not only as a gifted writer but also a true historian! She incorporated into this imaginary conversation the differing perspectives that formed once England enforced her ban on the international slave trade. There were two prominent positions represented in this conversation, the first being that England’s difficult stance was the result of practicality and economic convenience. The second was motivated by moral conviction over the treatment of other human beings.

Once Mrs. Gallagher finished with her reading, she offered some fascinating commentary amidst some time set aside for Q&A. What struck me most was a question she posed to the audience about religious conviction: “England’s sense of guilt and desire to correct her contribution to the slave trade was largely the result of religious belief in God’s wrath and love. Understand that I am a secular humanist, yet I wonder if secularists have enough passion to lead the way in social justice?” At this, many in the room shifted uncomfortably. Here is a self-proclaimed secular humanist declaring that she questions whether secularists have passion enough to stand up for morality in society! It was absolutely amazing to witness.

History certainly defends her point: it is only the religious that have fought for moral justice. More specifically, Christianity has been the root cause of defending morality in Western Civilization. Other movements that claim to fight for social (not moral) justice are rooted in secular ideals that view man as the god of his own existence. These movements quickly gain momentum but soon prove to be faulty, and many times crumble within a few years of their boldest achievements. Consider the French Revolution. Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire, both secularists, paved the way for French rioting and the Reign of Terror. Even after the French established a form of Republicanism, this shabby government stood only for a brief moment until Napoleon rose to the scene.

The more I considered this particular point, the more I was convinced of the truthfulness of it. Gallagher hit it right on the nose.

After the lecture I expressed my deep appreciation to the professor for the intriguing presentation, and even asked a question or two of my own. Kaylee and I very much enjoyed ourselves.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

God causes all things

***The following is an email that you might find interesting =)


Hello Brian,

You asked: "My question is why do you believe that God determines all things (I mean every single last act of ours is determined by God, meaning that every choice we make is the only choice we have since that is the determined plan of God)?"

This is an excellent question.

Before I answer your question, you labeled the belief that God has ordained all things that happen in space and time as "Determinism." A better label would be "God's absolute sovereignty and rulership in creation."

Why do I believe that God determines all things, including the choices we make? The simple answer is that the Scriptures teach this.

Romans 8:28 is a clear example: "28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. The question should be asked: What is meant by "all things?" Consider the surrounding context. The election of God is certainly included (verses 29-39). Before verse 28, Paul also speaks of the desires of the heart of the unregenerate and of the regenerate (verses 5-16), our sufferings as children of God (verses 17-18), the groaning of creation eagerly awaiting redemption from its fallen state (verses 19-22), and the Holy Spirit aiding the saints in their weaknesses, even in prayer (verse 26).

The Apostle concludes chapter 8 with those wonderful words founds in verses 38-39: "38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (NASB). Why is it that none of the aforementioned things (death, life, any created thing, and anything else) are unable to separate us from the love of God? Because of the truth found in verse 28 ... all things are caused by God to work together for good to those who love God.

It is because of the context that I can firmly say that the "all things" Paul speaks of is in reference to every action and decision that takes place in creation.

I will not examine the following texts in depth, but they are worth mentioning:

Proverbs 21:1, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it whereever He wishes" (NASB). The king's heart, his innermost being, is under the complete control of God.

Genesis 50:20, "20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive" (NASB). Joseph provides this answer to his brothers who did many evil things to him. His brothers meant evil against Joseph, but God meant it for good. God was not passive in the evil intent of his brothers. No, God intended these evil deeds, and with great purpose (for preserving many people alive).

In Isaiah 10:1-19, God brings judgment upon Israel by using Assyria (verse 6). Assyria had no original plan or intent against Israel, but only a general desire to destroy (verses 7). The Lord then punishes Assyria because of her boasting, as though she were the cause of her success; it was God who directed Assyria's evil purposes against Israel. God also brought success to Assyria (verses 12-19). Even though Assyria had no plans against Israel, God, not Assyria, decided to use them to bring judgment against His people.

Acts 4:27-28, "27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur" (NASB). The Lord purposed all the decisions and actions of all those who were involved in the crucifixion of Christ, including Pilate, the Gentiles, and the peoples of Israel. To what were they purposed? To do whatever God's hand predestined to occur.

The Scripture is abundantly clear that though human beings make decisions every day, these decisions are in the complete control of God.

I hope this was beneficial for you. If you have any further questions or comments, please let me know.

In Christ,
Casey Ryan