Category Archives: theology

why did god harden pharaoh’s heart?

Excuse the lowercase g in the title. It’s a stylistic affectation that I have always used in this blog. (I’m putting off my homework tonight to ruminate about this.) I thought that a bit of musing I made about this subject while I was young could be useful. I have read some of Calvin’s Institutes and found them logically problematic while devotionally stimulating. I have no bones to pick with Calvin himself, but his theories have participated in too many holy wars.

Now to the question: Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart. To listen to a TULIP Calvinist, God was revealing in Romans 9 that some people are purposively sent to hell to prove a point, and as Jerry Wallis suggests, the sharp edge of a consistent TULIP Calvinist requires the destruction of some people to prove he is God. Immediately, I reject any characterization of God that smacks of pettiness. God doesn’t need any of us to do anything for his glory to be completely full. The God that would condemn some to hell and choose beforehand to bring some to heaven, is just philosophical determinism in sheep’s clothing. I reject it out of hand. I actually reject the god that Calvinism requires. He doesn’t qualify.

So it seems that Pharaoh, on the TULIP’s account is doomed to hell. But I offer an alternative. Reading the Bible through “in a year” this year, I just passed the account in Exodus where Moses recounts the plague events. Over and over Pharaoh rejects Moses’ plea and keeps the Israelis in Egypt. The Bible says that God is the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Does God therefore have a personal vendetta against Pharaoh? Or, does he count Pharaoh among those who are predetermined to go to hell, and so uses him to resist the Israeli’s? After all, who cares about Pharaoh’s soul?

But I think if we examine the story, we see that the purpose of God in hardening Pharaoh’s heart has nothing to do with Pharaoh himself. He is not a sociopath when he mourns the loss of his firstborn. He is actually human. The arrogance of the TULIPs makes them think they know the eternal destination of Pharaoh. They are certain that God’s hardening was personal and that God was getting glory in the negativity of Pharaoh’s circumstance.

I will argue that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart had everything to do with demonstrating to National Israel that the God who they were only peripherally acquainted with, YHWH, was the real and demonstrably sovereign Lord of Creation, not Ra and his pantheon of subordinate gods. We know, since they tried to return to Egypt and built replica’s of Egypt’s gods, that they were henotheists. They were not loyal to YHWH and needed something of a boost in their faith to make the move. God provided that boost by the miracles he did in Egypt and the desert. The demonstration of the plagues was not Pharaoh centered. It was Israel centered.

So where does that leave Pharaoh? Well, just about the same place we are all in. We have sinned; we have hurt and offended the creation, people, and God himself. But, we are redeemable in Christ. These arrogant determinists write Pharaoh into oblivion because of his bad behavior (yes, motivated by God). But which one of us has not done what Pharaoh did on some small scale. In fact the hardening of the TULIP’s heart against those who are obviously damned, looks an awful lot like Pharaoh’s hardened heart against Israel.

I appeal finally to the thief on the cross beside Jesus. Did Pharaoh have a moment of repentance before he died? We’ll never know. Honestly, we won’t, despite all the howling of the TULIPs who condemn themselves by their haughty absolutes and deterministic god. What a sorry lot, even with the devotional appeal of Calvin, and the wonderful propositional logic of their declarations.

Are they going to be saved. I don’t know. Some of them will be, I’ll wager. But I don’t know who of them will be; God knows. Like Socrates, though, I am smart enough to know that I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know whether I will persist until the end with Christ, even though I think I’m elect, elect in and because of the Son of God.

Finally, I take a page out of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Last Battle when the Calormene servant of Tash came to the doorway, Aslan let him in because the servant’s faith was more worthy than Tash, his proclaimed god. With respect to mercy, I believe God is generous. With respect to vengeance, I believe God doesn’t wish things to come to that, though he will exact vengeance on those who positively refuse his proffered gift. And though he exacts vengeance on some, I don’t believe it is with joy, or pleasure. Regret is the emotion that I think most closely resembles the disposition of God in that case.

Don’t take me as mean-spirited, I think it is the TULIPs who are. I reserve further criticisms of Calvinism until later. I’ve exposed my soft underbelly quite enough for tonight.

self examination

I am finding that movies and books, even at times music is not enough entertainment to keep me from thinking about myself. I am in the process of recovery still from my dissertation, completed over a year ago. I am smarter, more capable, but as one friend Ray said, “Now that I am a Doctor, people expect more of me.” That’s OK. They do, and the investment of their lives in patience for the fruits of my labor should be worth it.

I think some of the fascination with myself as an object, and a subject, is complicated by the material of my dissertation, (get it here.) Complicated because it is a challenge of truth about the reality of my Christian experience, my married life, my children, and all the other relations that require my time. The critique implied in my work brings a rich dialectic about my life. So it is more entertaining thinking about how I will become a better person than it is thinking about my work. Sometimes, the engine of my critique bowls over all other intended activity.

I remember years ago, while I lived in Alabama, that I began to read SF and adventure novels at night before I went to sleep so that I wouldn’t have to process my day, obsessively mark each detail and make a judgment about it. I’m still reading novels before bed, but I find myself thinking about my relation with the novels, the characters, and the scenarios they are in. There is something instructive in the musings of writers who make their characters dance through a plausible world, especially those great ones who are both so human that their failings are understandable, and so good that their life is to be emulated.

This is the classic setup for an Aristotelian tragedy. But it still works. The good ones struggle to keep their integrity, even if their integrity depends on a dark hope, or an absurd end. The struggle is engaging inside the hope that it will resolve itself without the emergence of our worst selves. Being thrown (Heideggerian thrown-ness) into the world that cares nothing for me, or my local clan, involves making peace in a Stoic way with the things that I cannot change. But that’s not enough.

I’ve been reading Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus and coming to the conclusion that our circumstances, whatever they appear to be are worth more than any mourning we might put into it. The experience itself is its own reward. I’ve also been reading something of the ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. Oh my God, I open myself to an experience of being pierced like her. The pain and the transfinite pleasures not available anywhere else. I remember Thomas a Kempis saying, and I paraphrase, “How many of us would not prefer spiritual pleasures over material ones if they were always available to us?” This rhetorical question makes it obvious that we would choose those pleasures, except that they are not readily available, cannot be conjured up, and leave us a slave of our passion for them. One taste and you will be hooked for life. The funny thing is, that ordinary, everyday freedom, that expressed by the wino, techie, lover, or politician, distracts us.

Not a bad metaphor, addiction to Christ. But God wants more of a relationship than the metaphor of addiction can serve. The objective God, the one that can be sequestered in a box, is not one that can be shown to the skeptic. The enduring God needs no proof, nor does he need our services. He is, however, interested in a relationship, and has sacrificed his son to make that possible.

What’s next? Explore! We don’t need someone to tell us that good things come to those who wait. We need to go out and engage our world.

people

Squaring away my social enigmas takes way more time than I want to put into it. I like people, but then I can only take so much of them also. I need times away from people to vegetate, settle, scrub my brain from the influences and interactions. That is not to say I don’t enjoy those interactions, but the social definition of my self is only part of my being. I need time to return to myself, restore, recharge.

So, lately, I have been pretty busy. Work at school, work at work, work at home, etc. I am in the middle of two class preparations for the two classes I teach at Evangel. I take this seriously, and so spend quite a bit of time getting through this material, and creating presentations that are sequential, rational, well ordered, etc. One thing I have had to do is work Saturdays to catch up and keep up. I am grateful for my job, but Saturday work puts me in a deficit for private time. On top of that, social obligations on Saturday stack up to overload my ability to tolerate people. I start to be inconsiderate, even harsh, and to avoid further breakdowns, sequester myself to some private place. It doesn’t always work. There’s a bitter, harsh edge to my personality that needs free space and time to keep tamed.

I think of the Sabbath laws set in place for Judaism, and the requirement of rest for Christians. OK, I am not the religious sort, the sort that takes to laws and controls like a duck to water. But this requirement of rest, of a Sabbath, is sounding more and more like what needs to happen in my life to respond to my busyness.

Having finished my dissertation over a year ago, I am finally getting my feet back on the ground. I’m not running yet, but I am moving. I still find it hard to read interesting things that are not associated with my schoolwork, but that is getting better. Even though it is for SPS, I am enjoying going through another pentecostal manifesto book by Nimi Wariboko The Pentecostal Principle: Ethical Methodology in New Spirit. He is an African. His writing style is not Western, though it is stimulating and powerful. I will be giving a review of the last chapter in the book and a critique at the SPS meeting in 2013.

What does this have to do with people? I am affectionately attached to the people involved in this endeavor. I have committed myself to scholarship and integrity in order to give a fair look at the material I encounter. I have committed myself to these people, the auditors, readers, and writers. There is a certain pressure to an engagement of this sort, and as I have only recently been recovering from my dissertation, I haven’t been able to give my fully-functioning self to this project. There is a certain amount of envy of the accomplished writers and thinkers in this crowd that I have to get over, and often do so successfully, and a certain mental bruise of the effort of my dissertation that persists, and prevents me from moving out vigorously as I have in the past. There is a loss of naiveté that and that cannot be recovered, and a certain fear that my efforts will again sink me into profound mental turmoil. But I am overcoming that fear, and rising to the challenges ahead.

The scholarly crowd deserves much appreciation for their efforts, and I wish to give it to them both in scholarship and thanks. But the relationships are complicated. I have to avoid cynicism while fostering it at the same time. I am aiming at the golden mean of cynical critique. I really think there is one. It is a living philosophy not a dead text.

drupal

Gosh, the installation was easy. My server offers it as an easily installable option. Click . . . done! I find that I need to update and advance my web mojo to keep up with one of my clients. So I am spending hours and hours learning how to do stuff I shied away from before.

That’s OK. It is the pathway now between fear and trembling on one hand and dread on the other.

I finished two projects this week that were sort of looming over my head. They were obligations to the academic community I am a part of and had been ignoring. The first, a review of Amos Yong’s book The Spirit of Creation for a journal that included comments about the book and Amos’ response to them. Dread kept me from that one. I couldn’t face the knowledge of that subject for a while, after I had thoroughly indulged myself in it. The second project was reading a book on theology for Brill, title and author’s name were withheld from me so I could review fairly. Good book, interesting thesis, but I don’t know when it will come out. I had forgotten to do it, and an email from the publisher reminded me. So fear and trembling pushed me to finish it.

Drupal, an open source web development system, a CMS. Interesting, simple structure. I am just beginning my journey.

Today I am going to the movies with my Alpha unit in the afternoon, and pick up my spouse from the airport in the evening.

a better ethos

I grew up in a house where respect for science was common currency, not unlike many houses in the United States. My mother, before marrying my father, was a research chemist. Both my parents took it as gospel that science and reason give us useful access to the world and its wonders. I grew up believing the earth was ancient and the universe even older. As readers of National Geographic, we all followed the exploits of the Leakey family as they fleshed out a plausible narrative of ancient paleontology. Louis Leakey was both a follower of Darwin and a devout Christian, not an unusual combination in the circles my parents traveled in.

When I became a believer in the early 1970s I began a long and sometimes tortuous relationship with the evangelical church. I had no problem with Jesus, but some of his followers weren’t so happy with me. God, however, saved me in many ways by the blood of Christ and fellowship of the saints. I needed the church and devoted my life to serving God.

My evangelical adoption came with many things as a package deal. Short hair (no big deal, I was in the Air Force anyway,) a literal interpretation of the Bible, and a deep devotion to God. I’m sure you can guess where we are going with this. I adopted with my new family a literal interpretation of the Bible, itself a very modern method, and struggled to reinterpret the world in those terms. I have to say that in my euphoria of early salvation, I glossed over the troubling consequences of literal interpretation and because of my grateful reaction to God I rebuilt my world with a young earth view.

None of my education at Valley Forge Christian College prepared me to face the consequences of such a naïve view of the scripture, though I was learning that not all scripture could be read literally. I did adopt an old earth view during that time, seeing that it was one reasonably supported view in Christianity. The curious thing was that I defended it with a strange logic of scripture. God perceived that a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day. So, if time was relative to God, then I also would count the six days of creation to be relative. This realization did nothing to dissuade me from literalism, if I could import a reasonable argument to defend what, on the surface, appeared to be true, that the earth looked like it was very old.

I discovered later that the young earth creationists, many of them my brothers and sisters in Christ, also believed that the earth appeared to be very old. What seemed strange to me was that they spent most of their time proposing arguments more gimmicky than mine to prove that the earth was actually very young. I rebuffed their nuances when I realized that they were not as interested in doing science as they were in discrediting it. I started to see those people as one would see a dull witted uncle who still argues that the New Deal of Roosevelt’s era was a bad idea. You still invite him to Thanksgiving dinner but hope nobody brings up politics. My problem is that I like to get him going and ride the excitement, even though sometimes it turns sour. I don’t think he gets it.

When I was doing my doctoral studies at Temple University, I became interested in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science. I discovered that within these disciplines, a critique of science was emerging that at once acknowledged the middle state of our knowledge and the embeddedness of the scientific enterprise within human limitations. Science, on this view, could not declare its findings with certainty, even though it had mastered technologies of many kinds. I found comfort in the realization that unlike the young earth creationists, the scientists, with many exceptions, were able to critique their own work. That seemed to be a much more honest way of engaging the world, and I adopted that ethos wholeheartedly. I hadn’t abandoned Christ, but believed that he would prefer this sort of humility against the principled dishonesty of the young earth creationists. I call it principled, because it resides within a tradition of biblical interpretation that had for a large part been a profitable means of exploring scriptural truth. I call it dishonest because its participants were not interested in the truth of the world any longer, but building a rational citadel against infidels. Their method had become naïve propositional logic and not faith in God.

In order to enter the kingdom of God one must become like a little child. Between the scientists and the young earth creationists, the scientists were more like little children being guided by wonder, beauty, and curiosity. I am not suggesting that scientists are blameless and more holy than the young earth creationists, but rather that they model an ethos that leads to the kingdom of God. They are also continuing to obey the command of God to subdue the earth.

dualism again

I am constantly bumping into references to science that force being scientific into the material/spiritual dualism I have begun to reject. But on that account, I really must define what it is that I think the real world is made up of. As I have said before elsewhere, John A. Wheeler’s quip that “it comes from bit” is an adequate description of what is real. The universe in all its diversity is neither material or spiritual, but rather, information. The experiences of the material world and non-material are all generated within the universe. Why is it that we need to attribute those effects to different kinds of stuff, as if wonder and concrete are opposing each other.

an old rant

You may or may not be surprised to know that the insular character of modern conservative church life is one of the chief reasons people reject the gospel. If you are really interested in helping people find Christ you will expand your borders beyond the default comfort zone. As Isaiah said, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion.” People need saving, and closing ourselves off from them and their ideas is a sure way to get them to ignore us.

We permit football (the modern equivalent of bloody gladiator sports) into our Christian homes, not only because it will get people saved if they realize some of the players are Christians, but because we like it. To shut off science because it somehow sullies our Christian thinking is a bit hypocritical. Some of you may also shun the sports arena. That’s fine. I admire your purity. But Jesus went where the people went. He didn’t sit in the Temple and wait for people to come to him.

god forgets?

Excuse me for bringing this up again, but a leader in the Assemblies of God said, “The very concept of ‘atonement’ means ‘to cover.’ Or, as David put it, ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us’ (Psalm 103:12). God’s forgiveness includes His forgetfulness. He is not interested in broadcasting your failures. Instead, He throws around you His robes of righteousness.”

I argue with none of this but what is emphasized above. Does God’s forgiveness truly include his forgetfulness? This is a difficult problem for one reason only: political. I would feel free to criticize this remark, even publicly, but I agree with what this leader is doing and do not wish to cause him trouble. What I would like to do is criticize the remark without having it reflect on this person’s otherwise much desired leadership.

To do that, I would like to set the remark in the context of a fairly primitive theological view. It is primitive, not because it is generally biblical but because it refuses to use the light of logic as a test for theological statements. Let’s make up a new word to fit the problem: theoillogical. That is not to say that all true theological statements are comprehensible, but that some are beyond our logic. The above statement is not one of those.

One thing we have learned in the last 2500 years or so is that humanly perceivable logic is actually true, despite the curious fuzziness at its limits. The core of logic, though empty is nonetheless true. If it is not true then, everything we have constructed around it is also without plausible connection to our rational perception. The world then becomes a complete mystery, and all our science is still completely in the dark. I cannot accept this consequence. Kill me now. If our logic is disconnected from reality, then most of what we know is wrong. Let the world end now. It isn’t worth trying to square things away any more.

Rubbish. We may not know everything, but we know some things.

The other possibility is that the theology is wrong. Is it possible that some things can be known of God? Is it possible to know what God can or cannot know, at least categorically? There is another issue: is the God I believe to be, worthy of being my God? The answer to the first question that bears on the second one, is that, categorically, any God must know more than I do, both about me and the universe. If that simple requirement isn’t met; if that isn’t the God who is there, then don’t bother me any more with theology, I am an atheist. Or, better, if there are superior beings who don’t qualify as Gods, then I would be happy to meet them as fellow travelers in this universe.

I hope this clears things up. Though this leader’s God is great, it is not great enough to know my sins I haven’t forgotten. That God doesn’t qualify categorically.

Actually the God I worship is greater than this leader’s God. My God still forgives me, covers me, redeems me, even though my God knows everything about me. My God, the one who created logic, and for that matter, all truth, is worthy of me, is not less than me, is the maker, the master, the holder, the origin, the all-encompassing one, whose beginning and end are incomprehensible, and who, arguably, is beyond human logic, impossible to prove the existence of, and scientifically uninteresting.

I think I’m going to hunt for more on this later. Who knows…