Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Excerpt from pages 25-26 of Who Stands Fast? Discipleship In Difficult Places by Michael Duncan:

I was told of Sally (not her real name), a Christian, in her teenage years who loved to attend church and hang out with the youth group. One night they decided to have a party at someone’s place. As they danced about they were suddenly brought to a stand still by the sound of a screeching car outside. A few moments later leather clad gang members stormed the house and quickly isolated Sally and another girl. They then forced the both of them into the car and sped off. Sally knew she was about to be gang raped. As she had been raised in a Christian home, she prayed that somehow God would prevent what was possibly about to happen. The car did not miraculously stop. As they were dragged into a house, she prayed again for deliverance but no deliverer came. As she was being brutally raped she inwardly cried out to God to rescue her. He didn’t.

Mick Duncan’s book pulls no punches. It’s full of stories like the above one – stories with unhappy endings. In Sally’s case she turned to drugs to dull the pain, and then prostitution to support her addiction.

Page 33:

To pray during those excruciating times is absolutely the right thing to do. To believe that God will somehow make a difference is so important. But it is also a disturbing reality that God will not always come through for us.

Throughout the book Duncan challenges commonly-held perceptions of God, and dares to ask the questions that only non-Christians seem allowed to: Does God actually know the future? Can He really do anything? Is He in fact imperfect?

In answer to the first question, Duncan puts the case for open theism (broadly speaking, the belief that God does not know the whole future), even though he disagrees with it.

And I have to say that I’m with him on this one. When I finish writing a story, I know everything that happens in it beginning to end, no matter what the characters may think.

However I differ on whether God can in fact do anything. (e.g. create a square circle) Repeatedly Duncan asserts that God has chosen to limit himself.

Page 61:

God’s plan to self-limit does not represent weakness. In his wisdom he chose to be limited. It is therefore true that while God can do anything, he has chosen to honour freewill which in turn has its own consequences and outcomes. In effect God can no longer do everything. He cannot decree free will for a person and at the same time dominate that person. It is therefore not helpful to think of God as one who can do anything, anywhere at anytime. God has chosen not to be this kind of God in our world.

I think that God can decree free will for a person, without necessarily limiting his own.

There are several biblical accounts of people using their free will to rebel against God, and unwittingly choosing His will.

Isaiah 53:10 (Good News):

(God speaking through Isaiah, apparently about Jesus)
The LORD says,
“It was my will that he should suffer;
his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness.
And so he will see his descendants;
he will live a long life,
and through him my purpose will succeed.

2 Kings 19:25 (Good News):

(God speaking through Isaiah to address Sennacherib)
“Have you never heard that I planned all this long ago? And now I have carried it out. I gave you the power to turn fortified cities into piles of rubble.

Esther 7:9-10 (Good News):

Then one of them, who was named Harbonah, said, “Haman even went so far as to build a gallows at his house so that he could hang Mordecai, who saved Your Majesty’s life. And it’s twenty-two metres tall!”
“Hang Haman on it!” the king commanded.
So Haman was hanged on the gallows that he had built for Mordecai. Then the king’s anger cooled down.

Fascinatingly, God also seems to override free will at times:

Exodus 7:1-6 (Good News):

The LORD said, “I am going to make you like God to the king, and your brother Aaron will speak to him as your prophet. Tell Aaron everything I command you, and he will tell the king to let the Israelites leave his country. But I will make the king stubborn, and he will not listen to you, no matter how many terrifying things I do in Egypt. Then I will bring severe punishment on Egypt and lead the tribes of my people out of the land. The Egyptians will then know that I am the LORD, when I raise my hand against them and bring the Israelites out of their country.” Moses and Aaron did what the LORD commanded.

Daniel 1:8-9 (Good News):

Daniel made up his mind not to let himself become ritually unclean by eating the food and drinking the wine of the royal court, so he asked Ashpenaz to help him, and God made Ashpenaz sympathetic to Daniel.

I find it interesting to think of God as the author of a story. He knows the whole story beginning to end, and created the whole world in which it is set, but still creates characters (by which I mean people) with their own energies, motivations and decisions.

Page 67:

…believing in a God of omnipotence and dominance, can give rise to immature believers. Far from embracing life and soaring like an eagle we get passive believers, cowering in cathedrals and waiting for almighty God to do everything for them. From this arises an unhealthy dependency in and on the church. Far from a God of omnipotence strengthening the believer, the Christian is disempowered.

When, however, I think of a God who self-limits himself and chooses to invite us to participate in the fight against evil, I am empowered to be all I need to be. I come out of the dark corner empowered and eager to fight. I want to be apprenticed to this God, so I can be the best fighter possible. This I think is how Jesus saw his partnership with the Father.

And yet, as well as fighting evil, Jesus spent his crucifixion doing nothing. He himself became a passive believer, waiting for almighty God to do everything for him. Even when questioned, on the whole he remained silent.

Duncan sums up on page 77:

It seems many Christians are waiting for God to do something when in fact God may be waiting for them. We get one shot at life and in this life God will do much for us but he will not do everything. I firmly believe it is time we recapture a daring sense of initiative, where we rediscover the act of seizing the moment. We need to reignite the big idea of living audaciously and recklessly, summon the courage to be all that we were created to be; people who think, choose, decide, step out and act.

I think the real answer is to be found back on page 43, during a discussion on how God and Satan operate:

Where some get into theological trouble, is when they see a few instances of how God or Satan operate and then argue that is the way God or Satan always operates.

It occurs to me that God may have created some people to be actioners, and some to be waiters.

For me, I am finding it best to maintain a balance between action and waiting on God.

This may also change.

I’m not saying that to duck the issue, simply that I have found making decisions on a case-by-case basis to work better for me than to unwaveringly follow an unbreakable rule.

So for the moment, sometimes I will action, sometimes I will wait on God. I embrace both.

An inspiring book, from a very inspiring speaker.

A square circle, by the way, is called a cylinder. ;)

You can buy WHO STANDS FAST – Discipleship In Difficult Places by clicking here.


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