In The Originals

A lot of evangelicals–many of them very important to my faith formation–believe and assert that Scripture is “without error in the originals.” A lot of seminaries and Christian colleges and para-church ministries require one to sign a faith statement with just such language.

First, there’s nothing I can discern in Scripture that says that. I can understand the conclusion some reach from some of the verses used to justify it, but no where is it a clear, decisive statement like “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” (a command) or “Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance” (something to believe as fact).

We are no where commanded to believe that Scripture is inerrant in the originals nor is it revealed to us as fact. It requires a conclusion to be drawn using human reason and understanding. And, as far as I have read, none of the Church Fathers taught this. Protestants do not have, regrettably, I’ve come to believe, any institutional body of authority called the “Church” to demand that one must accept this as a dogmatic point because it’s what the Church teaches, or I would gladly submit my intellectual qualms about the phrasing and accept it. Instead we have individual denominations and ministries demand we accept it, while others don’t, so it becomes a source of conflict and disunity.

I believe the Bible is God-breathed (this is given as fact) and the only infallible guide (notice the adjective modifies the “guide” not the follower or his understanding of what the guide says) to faith and life, and I believe it is inerrant in all it teaches (but not all that I think I learn from it). Inerrancy isn’t a very useful word. Of course God is right, but do I understand his meaning?

Which is why, precisely, I have a problem with the phrasing. Why put the qualifier “in the originals”? God is without error. Jesus Christ, the Living Word, is without error. However, Man’s understanding will always be full of error. Even if the originals, even if the copies, even if every fragment ever produced is without error, Man is still full of error.

Besides, from the moment the words were put down, from the moment they were spoken or written, from the moment they were put into language it became bounded and limited. Though it never binds or limits God, language is bounding and limiting for Man. This is something the West doesn’t deal with nearly enough. Wittgenstein did (e.g. “That which can not be spoken about must be passed over in silence.”), but not many, except to the point that they try to invalidate language all together.

2 Timothy 3:16, says God-breathed (in the NIV), not God-transcribed. “Breathed” is like when Jesus gave the disciples the Holy Spirit on the first Easter. (“And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” John 20:22) God-breathed allows for a dynamic between Spirit and word that makes it possible for God to guide those with fallible understanding. The phrase “in the originals” implies that if we could but find them there would be no need for the clarifying, prompting and illuminating work of the Spirit.

The limitation lies in us, not the words. It is impossible for God to put Himself so completely into language that we can understand Him totally and without error. Deep calls to deep, and it is the Spirit in us who calls to the Living Word in Scripture.

Another problem with the phrase is it strikes me as an attempt to put the discussion off-bounds. The only reason I can see for adding “in the originals” is because there’s no way to dispute it; we have none of the originals! How convenient. It makes it so much easier to dismiss any challenges. (“Well, you see, if we had the originals here you’d see clearly what God means.) At the same time it focuses attention away from what is truly important; that is, how, exactly, is God trying to transform me into the image of the Living Word by my reading of His spoken word?

Look at the disciples on Easter morning: “Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)” “They still did not understand from Scripture.” ! (Meaning the Tanakh, at that time.) There is plenty that we still can not understand from Scripture, even if it is “without error in the originals,” or in the copies.

Bonhoeffer and Obama

Eric Metaxas has just published the first biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in forty years: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. This review at Fox News has an illuminating†quote†from Metaxas that should sound alarm bells in the age of Obama:

But the legacy that Bonhoeffer leaves future generations is of the untold dangers of idolizing politicians as messianic figures. Not just in the 1930s and ’40s, but today as well.

“It’s a deep temptation within us,” says Metaxas. “We need to guard against it and we need to know that it can lead to our ruin. Germany was led over the cliff, and there were many good people who were totally deluded.”

Bonhoeffer, says Metaxas, was a prophet. He was a voice crying in the wilderness. He was God’s voice at a time when almost no one was speaking out against the evil of the Nazis.

For†further†reading on Bonhoeffer:

Here is the International Bonhoeffer Society’s English language page, and here is a good article by a member of that society.† Here is a general biographical article from the Wikipedia.† Here is a list of his books, many of which have a limited preview available.† Here is a short selection from his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship.† And here is the poem, “Who Am I?”

Steyn on Kennedy (or Why I Tend to Be Non-Progressive)

In general I would like to change the overall tenor of my blog away from the more polemical, reflections on the news-of-the-day, culture war sort, but something Mark Steyn recently wrote about Edward Kennedy summed up a lot of things for me.†† Steyn is acerbic, clever and hilarious, the closest living writer we have to a Twain (in his journalism and travelogues (not fiction)).† I have debated with myself for years if an H.L. Mencken (whom I love though I don’t share his worldview) style of rhetoric and writing is appropriate for a Christian.† At one time I read a lot about Muggeridge, though I have only dipped into him, and have the sense that he may have pulled it off.

Steyn wrote: “If a towering giant cares so much about humanity in general, why get hung up on his carelessness with humans in particular?”† While I really do find that I tend to adopt mediating political and theological positions, though that does not make me a moderate, I am a thorough orthodox Nicene Christian with strongly held beliefs, and though I dislike hubris on either side, I tend to believe political conservatism (for all its faults, failures and excesses) tends to do less harm to humanity.† Basically it’s a slower descent on the road to hell.

Steyn’s quote above nails it for me.† Progressives care deeply about the Poor, and less about the poor.† They are more concerned with Environmentalism than they are the environment.† They love Humanity and hate man.† Jesus Christ was the opposite.† His life and ministry showed an unparalleled concern for concrete humans, and His death showed that that deep care was extended to all Humanity.† This is the arrow of love–it moves from the particular to the general–and without that focus on the concrete, historical person before you; that is, our neighbor, we can not truly exhibit compassion for humanity.

We see this in 1 Timothy 3.† An overseer should be gentle, temperate, faithful, self-controlled and hospitable, among others, all qualities that relate to specific, real, tangible human beings we are in family or community with.† We find an awful lot in Scripture about how to treat persons and not so much about how to treat peoples.† We find almost exclusively teachings on how individuals should relate to individuals and how communities of faith should relate to individuals (e.g. Matthew 18:15-17).† I can not think of a teaching off-hand that deals with our responsibility to our neighbor, family or community mediated through the government, unless it’s Jesus’s teaching to reconcile with another before it lands in court, suggesting, at least, that judicial intervention is a valid and necessary, if undesired, process.

It’s interesting to me that Jesus, Paul and Peter all addressed our obligations to the government, especially when the government they were referring to would be intolerable to us today, as long as it wasn’t in conflict with our obligations to God.† Nowhere I am aware of do they delineate the obligations of government to the individual or the individual’s obligation to other individuals through the government.

Don’t get me wrong; I cherish representative democracy even if it is “the worst form of government except all those others” (Churchill) which contains the “seeds of its own destruction” (Robert Welch) ((No I am not a member of the John Birch Society and know very little about it)), and ours is sliding into an insidious individualism with a destructive bent towards self-gratification and consumerism.† However, nothing we can do will remove the consequences of original sin. † When we try to “fix” problems, especially on a grand scale, we tend to make them worse–the more grand the proposed solution the less grand the outcome.

So, I tend to be generally more conservative politically and more radical (in the sense of the Sermon on the Mount, not French Revolution) personally. Conservatism should be about conservation (and I should say I tend to an older pre-Reagan conservatism, one that at one time would have embraced thinkers like Wendell Berry), and the best way to conserve is to plant.† If democracy does indeed contain within itself the seeds of its own destruction, as all human Babels must, then at least it takes longer for the weeds to flourish because there are just so many vibrant, beautiful plants growing.

Governments do indeed have positive roles to play; some problems (e.g. toxic waste, highways, defense, education) need resources, regulations and direct intervention, but governments deal with people in the aggregate and abstract, and this leads to care for Humanity and carelessness towards humans.† It creates a situation in which people can advocate for health care as a positive right while denying life to millions.† Medical treatment guaranteed to the sick by governmental legislation is not as† legitimate a function of government, if at all, than protecting the innocent or defending those who can not defend themselves.† Because the unborn have been abstracted to fetuses, we have decided they are not human and have no rights.† The first right a government should protect is the right to life.† Even liberty itself comes after that!

It is not progress to medically treat a person with the flu in the same hospital where an unborn baby is deprived of her life and where another baby is born and another is operated on in the womb.† (While most abortions are done in specialty “clinics,” there are still hundreds of hospitals that perform them, and even if they were not, it’s not progress to treat those who were born while killing others. The hospital was a useful, but unnecessary, comparison.)† Yes, of course, I think the conditions which drive some women to abortion need to be addressed.† That’s why we adopted two older, special needs children out of the public adoption system after they were removed from their mother.

Desipte what Obama said in his address before Congress on September 9th, don’t be fooled into thinking that if we get a national public option we won’t eventually get tax-payer funded abortions.† They already have them in Canada.

Render unto Caesar, but love your neighbor.

Quantum Sovereignty

God is sovereign. Of this I have no doubt. I have no more doubt of it than I have that the Word of God is inerrant, but for me inerrancy is not a very useful word, and neither is sovereignty. Of course God is right, but do I understand His meaning? Of course God is sovereign, but do I truly understand what that means?

I do not question salvation by grace through faith or the authority of Scripture or even Godís sovereignty. Itís just that we are not saved by the doctrine of justification, so we are not saved by the doctrine of sovereignty or predestination or any other teaching. We are saved by the cross, not the doctrine of atonement.

God sovereignty is only one aspect of his nature. Scripture never says God is sovereign in the same wayóthe same grammatical constructionóthat it says ďGod is love.Ē An aspect of Godís nature is his sovereignty, his power. But his nature is love, and divine power is rooted in love.

Godís power is limited by his nature. He has no power to sin, and not just by some semantic twist of words whereby because heís good everything he does is righteous. Doing flows out of being, Godís as well as manís, and as God is, so he does, and he has not the power to do otherwise. Whatís truly amazing about that is that God can not choose not to love.

God owes us nothing, indeed, but he couldnít not love us. He has no more power not to love than I do to turn water into wine. In the reformed tradition they act as if what God does is right because he does it. What God does is right because he has no choice but to be who he is. He canít not love us.

The reformed tradition puts demands on God. ďBecause I understand the Bible this way, God must be that way.Ē I have had people challenge my views with ďif God is not supreme in all things is he worthy to be praised?Ē God is worthy to be praised, period. I will set no condition upon it.

But I believe sin has real power; itís not just perceptual. I believe that the ďlaw of sin and deathĒ is every bit as real as the laws of physics. Sin causes. It has real world consequences apart from our perception. In other words, sin wonít disappear if we just look at it differently. Itís true that sometimes what we perceive as sin isnít. Itís also true, however, that sin really exist. The power of sin and death is every bit as scriptural as sovereignty. Satan and sin have power in this world. Satan is called the ďgod of this world.Ē (1 Corinthians 4:4), and he has power.

Just as God is sovereign over the laws of nature, but does not often interfere with them (at least as far as we can tell), so the law of sin and death also operates as a real force in the natural world. God can and does intercede in nature with miracles, and He also intercedes in the law of sin and death through the redeeming work of His Son and transforming work of His Spirit.

However, just as He does not ďcause each and every leaf to fall to the groundĒ (as Luther asserted) , so He does not cause each sin related event, such as abortion (which would make abortion part of His plan for the aborted child.) ((ď[W]ith God there simply is no contingency, but it is only in our eyes. For not even the leaf of a tree falls to the ground without the will of the Father.Ē Lectures on Romans, Works Vol. 25, p. 373))

In the classic view of Godís sovereignty there can be no randomness whatsoever. Any randomness could result in an outcome that might lead to God losing control of the world, at least according to this view. That means that in a game of Russian Roulette God determines exactly when the single bullet stops spinning one chamber before the hammer. That means that for every deck of cards that has ever been shuffled, God has determined the order of the cards because many outcomes have rested upon the shuffle the deck of cards and the toss of a coin, outcomes God can not allow to be left to chance if He planned it all out from the beginning, down to the individual leaf.

For a long time, Newtonian mechanics was seen as a perfect explanation for how the universe works. Ultimately it began to break down, or rather, not break down so much as begin to show its incompleteness. Quantum mechanics replaced Newtonian mechanics with a more complete understanding of how the universe works, but it too is still incomplete.

I believe that the Medieval mindset conceived Godís sovereignty in a mechanical way, much like Newtonian physics. I think that it is incomplete, and I think itís time for a shift to a more quantum understanding of Godís sovereignty.

Hereís a syllogism: Everything God wills is Good. Nothing happens outside His will. Therefore, everything is good.

Therefore what is there to be redeemed or restored? It make nonsense of the concept of redemption. Everything that has and will happen has happened or will happen according to His will. (Remember Luther, quoted above, there is no contingency, period.) Where is the need for redemption, for restoration, for re-creation? Itís all good. Itís our faulty perception of ďaccidentsĒ that cause us to think otherwise, right?

We, of all beings, are made in His image. God gave us power, too. Does that mean that in some precious way he truly imbibed us with a degree of sovereignty? John 1:12 tells us this power is for all who believe. He has given us the power to be His children. This means we alone of all creation can also create because we alone are created in His likeness, and we alone are His children.

(Evil can not create. It can only destroy. Just as there can only be heat, and cold is the loss or absence of heat, but it still has a real experiential effect, so evil is the loss or absence of good. Evil is experienced by us a real, like cold, but it is not creative; it is destructive. Thatís why Satan has the power of death but not life.)

The Reformed tradition limits Godís power and sovereignty. He planned it all out and made it happen exactly the way He intended so that not a single leaf falls to the ground without His decision, no randomness, no contingency? God is way more sovereign than that. Yes. Thatís what I said. God is way more sovereign than that.

Why must an event only have meaning if itís part of some plan? Why canít the God of all creation, who created ex nihilo, daily create anew with the corrupted things of this world? Why canít He create meaning from meaninglessness, create purpose from purposelessness, create sense from senselessness?

Rather than something having some purpose because it was part of a plan before the foundation of the world, why couldnít Godís plan be to show His power and glory by taking what we, in our genuine freedom and power, destroyed and re-creating it.

So, I could die a perfectly senseless death tomorrow. I have no hope that I wonít. What I do have is the hope that if I do, God can take my death and give it meaning. God is able to build straight with the ďcrooked timber of humanity.Ē That crookedness is real, and not part of His will or plan, but He can take it and make it something new. For me, this is what it means for Him to be Creator God. His creation wasnít over on the sixth day.

In John 5:17 ” Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working.’Ē My Father is workingÖ working? What reason? It was all done on the 6th day. There is no contingency. There are no accidents. Itís all part of a plan.

It seems clear to me that after the Fall He went back to work re-creating.

Before the creation of the world there was nothing. God created. After the Fall, dare I say it, there was nihilism. That is Satanís goal, to take the meaning out of creation in the same way making something cold is really taking the heat out of it. Godís power is such that He can create as well out of nihilism as he can out of nothing. That is the redemption of the world, a redemption and restoration out of nihilism.

We donít grasp Godís sovereignty fully because we donít grasp the Fall fully. The Fall was absolute and total. It was an authentic act of freedom by those created in the image of the Creator. It had real consequences, and still does as the law of sin and death is at work, but Creator God can manifest His sovereignty and power by creating life from death.

Quantum sovereignty!

I fear I belabor this point, but imagine this. God is the Potter. Made in His image, His plan was for us to be potters, creating alongside Him, with Him and through Him. He gave us the freedom and power, though, to create on our own. It was necessary if we were to be made in His image. We did, and we botched it, badly. Each of us makes a mess of our earthly vessel, but when we offer it to God He doesnít fix it; He re-creates it as it should have been all along, as if we had never botched it.

Quantum Sovereignty!

God can give us true and real power, freedom and control because it is impossible for us to do anything which He does not have the power to redeem. Itís OK for us to really have the power to do things against His will even if itís not right when we do because He is so sovereign that he can weave His purpose from randomness, accident, sin, error, mistake and disobedience.

One reason our faith is weak is that we image that God does everything (no contingency, no randomness). What if there is nihilism? That too is what is being redeemed. Why is the thought that God has ďmade us little lower than the heavenly being and crowned us with glory and honorĒ so scary. Is it because that would mean we bear eternal responsibility?

The Bible is full of talk of Godís plans, purposes and will as though they are distinct. Why canít he create the structures, both physical and spiritual, whereby His ultimate redemption of the world works as planned without Him dictating which kid dies getting on a school bus?

An Islamic Pascal’s Wager

For some reason I was thinking about Pascal’s Wager today.† I have never been a huge fan or it, or any other attempt to make faith more an act of man’s reason than God’s grace.† (Not that I think faith is unreasonable.)† It occured to me that perhaps the biggest flaw with Pascal’s Wager is that almost anyone could use it.† Consider:

Become a Muslim.† If Christian universalism is true youíre ok anyway because all will be saved.† If Christian predestinationism is true and youíre elect, youíre ok.† If youíre reprobate then what can you do?†If Cathloicism is true and works count then as a Muslim youíll probably at least get into purgatory.† If atheism is true, youíre no worse off than you are now.†† If karma is true then youíll help yourself come back better in the next life.† If Islam is true, and you faithfully practice it, you’ll go to Paradise.

The Unchanging God Moved By Love

A discussion I first saw at Ancient Hebrew Poetry and then followed over to MetaCatholic on theopaschitism and the impassibility of God reminded me of something that I “grasped” in a meditation on the death of Christ a few Easter’s back but never developed and promptly forgot about.

Doug at MetaCatholic writes:

The mystery of the cross is that Godís free choice and action is to be done to, to be made the recipient of human action and hostility, to be made passive and to suffer. But if this is not a free choice, above all in his divine nature yet also in his human, but is instead a consequence forced upon him by others and their actions, then it loses, I think, its real power.

I think this is true. In the circles I ran in years ago in undergraduate school it was commonplace to hear people say “Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross. He could have called down legions of angels…”

He could, of course, have chosen not to die. He could have come in judgment. However, and here’s what I grasped during my meditation on the cross: He did choose to die, but He chose it before the creation of the world… and yet, chose to create the world anyway, knowing the consequence of that free act in His divine nature was to also choose the cross as a free act in His human nature.

I don’t know from theopaschitism, and the technical theological aspects of impassibility are beyond my pay grade, but I do know this: At the death of a friend, God wept. There’s more mystery than meaning in that, and all I can do is worship the unchanging God who is moved by love.

Which Theologian Are You

You scored as a Anselm.† Anselm is the outstanding theologian of the medieval period. He sees man’s primary problem as having failed to render unto God what we owe him, so God becomes man in Christ and gives God what he is due. You should read ‘Cur Deus Homo?

Anselm 100%
Martin Luther 87%
Augustine 80%
Friedrich Schleiermacher 80%
John Calvin 73%
Karl Barth 73%
Jonathan Edwards 60%
JŁrgen Moltmann 47%
Paul Tillich 33%
Charles Finney 27%

Mapping God

If you’ve been paying attention you can’t help but notice that there is currently a huge press by fundamentalist atheist to discredit the orthodox Christian view of God. I think one of the reasons that Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens (and others) are so successful lately is partly a reaction against President Bush. The writers mentioned above are reaping the success of a fairly simplistic emotional syllogism in the public at large: Bush is a idiot; Bush is a Christian; Christians are idiots.

Alister E. McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford, has both written a book, The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine, and given a lecture, available in both mp3 or mov format at Veritas, titled “The God Delusion: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and the Meaning of Life” that convincingly challenges and refutes these arguments.

The national conversation in the Blogosphere has sparked some interesting approaches to theology. Andy at Sinning Boldly has written a post title “Richard Dawkins and a Personal God” in which he took a rather clever route of trying to map out the various approaches to defining God’s relationship to His creation. Rather than plotting transcendence and immanence in a linear way, he has proposed that there are actually two axes.

Author: Andy at Sinning Bodly, Used By Permission Used by Permission

It’s an interesting approach, but for me it’s never been an either/or. God is both transcendent and immanent; that is, to use Andy’s phrasing, He is both “wholly external” (a spin-off of Tillich’s “Wholly Other” I imagine) and “organically present.”

Since Jesus is both wholly other and organically present and ontologically distinct one would have to have some non-Euclidean spherical and multi-dimensional axis in order to map Him, but that’s way beyond me. I don’t know much about the mathematical field known as topology, but it seems to me that mapping God would require some kind of MŲbius strip in which God loops and bends back in on Himself, and even then we’d only see shadows of His real nature.

Late Night Thoughts on Limited Atonement

In the quite of night-
a time I dread-
remembering times gone
and loved ones dead.
The grief so strong,
like a hammer’s blow.
I gasp out loud,
the tears flow.
How I loved them!
Did You love them too?
Will I see them again?
I wish I knew.
If alone You choose,
why limit the call?
Love without action
is not love at all.

I wrote this poem at a time when I was beginning to have grave doubts about predestination and God structuring our salvation in such a way that we are helpless in its decision. That was over 15 years ago, and I still haven’t worked it out. In the belief that “questions tell us more than answers ever do” (Michael Card), I frequently ask lots of questions that I don’t really propose to answer.

Below are some I wrote after writing the poem. I won’t try to answer them here. But 15 years later, I think my position is this: God predestines some, known to Him as the elect, to salvation, and He may predestine some to damnation. Of that I am less confident, and I tend to be more like Luther than Calvin. Aside from those, I think that God makes it possible (that is He somehow provides enough grace ) for others to accept Him.

In other words, some receive God’s grace like a dead person receives the air blown into his lungs. Others accept his gift the way we accept a compliment. In neither case is the one who is saved doing anything to earn salvation, it is a free gift of grace, but those predestined have no choice and those not do.

The questions that drove this poem:

I don’t mean to question the sovereignty of God, but does it have to be an either/or situation, either God ‘s grace or our choice? Could it be that God gives us sufficient grace to choose Him if we want? But then this opens up a whole can of worms implying that God’s grace can be resisted. If it can be resisted then He is not sovereign is He?

However, that aside, the thing that troubles me is that if God deliberately chooses those who are damned can He be said to love them? I realize that we are not worthy of being loved, that we rejected Him, but He says He loves us and sent His Son to die for us.

If limited atonement is true then God did not send His Son for all, and He does not will for all to be saved. This implies, to me, that people have no intrisic value at all. I believe in original sin, but I also believe that man has value to God-all men, because He created us. If He values us then His act of atonement would be for all to receive if we take up our cross and follow Him.

How cruel if someone is born amoung the unelect, and their family loves them, they live an admirable life of self-sacrifice, in human terms, genuinely care about other, make the world a better place, and die never having had a hope of eternal life. This seems to make it God’s choice and not their sin that condemns them. If God’s sovereign will to save me is based on His choice alone in spite of my sin then His sovereign will to damn another is based on His choice and not their sin.

This also seems to be contrary to the actions and some of the words of Christ. Christ acted as if all men had value to God. Was it just because He did not know who the elect were or is it because God loves and values all men? If He values all men then why limit atonement or the possibility of it?

Now, am I questioning Scripture? Predestination is certaintly there. Am I saying that Paul does not count what Christ said? I hope not, but where is the reconcilation?

Another thing, why was the language of predestination and Calvinism so believable to people in the 16 and 17 centuries and not so much today? Is it that knowledge of Scripture has declined or is it that the cultural context in which Christianity finds itself has an effect on it? Is it that words lose meaning and shift focus? Is it that at times God’s Holy Spirit emphasizes one aspect because it is being negelectd and then emphasizes another later on?

Do we need to find the language of our generation to express the gospel? I am not talking about watering down the gospel, only finding the right way to evangalize modern America. That’s another thing, what is the point of evangalizing? Is it like prayer, more impt for the practictioner that the one evangalized?

Providence, Sin and Prayer

John Piper, a preacher and writer whom I deeply admire, recently wrote an article about the bridge that collapsed which prompted his ministry to ask its readers “Does God Cause Sin or Just Allow It? “If God is sovereign over evil,” the question asks, “can it be said that he causes it? Or does he just allow it? Is there really a difference?”

I have been struggling with just this question for several years now. Americans these days are fond of asserting that everything happens for a reason. Yes. But sometimes the reason is because sin and evil are real powers. I have decided that any theology of providence must begin with two axioms:

1) Sin is not perceptual.

2) Prayer is not purposeless.

Regarding 1, I believe that the “law of sin and death” is every bit as real as the laws of physics. Sin causes. It has real world consequences apart from our perception. In other words, sin won’t disappear if we just look at it differently. It’s true that sometimes what we perceive as sin isn’t. It’s also true, however, that Sin really exist.

Just as God is sovereign over the laws of nature, but does not often interfere with them (at least as far as we can tell), so the law of sin and death also operates as a real force in the natural world. God can and does intercede in nature with miracles, and He also intercedes in the law of sin and death through the redeeming work of His Son and transforming work of His Spirit.

However, just as He does not “cause” each “leaf to fall to the ground” (as Luther asserted) ((“[W]ith God there simply is no contingency, but it is only in our eyes.† For not even the leaf of a tree falls to the ground without the will of the Father.” Lectures on Romans, Works Vol. 25, p. 373)), so He does not cause each sin related event, such as abortion (which would make abortion part of His plan for the aborted child.)

Regarding 2, prayer is not without purpose. If God actively exercises His sovereignty over each and every event, that must include the speech/thought event of prayer, meaning that even what we pray is predetermined by Him. If true, this seems to make prayer powerless because we will only pray for what He has already foreordained us to pray for and He will only do what He already determined to do before the creation of the world.

Hebrews 11 tells us God is proud to be the God of people of faith. Why would He be proud of puppets who can not even choose what to pray for? Further, God relented when Moses prayed (Exodus 32). And the “prayer of faith” James writes about and Solomon’s prayer for wisdom are senseless if God’s chooses all events, including speech events. When Solomon prayed for wisdom, Scripture tells us that “It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this” (1 Kings 3: 10).

If God preordained that Solomon would pray this, and God is sovereign (with sovereign having the meaning, here, that Solomon could not refuse) then why would Solomon’s prayer please Him? Was God like a little child who suddenly realized he could really make the world respond to his wants and needs? I don’t think so. I don’t think ‘sovereign’ has to mean that God chooses each and every event in the space/time continuum.

I believe that it is within God’s sovereign power and choice to limit His choice. In Hebrews 6 we learn that God made a promise and swore by Himself, so that by “two unchangeable things” we have hope.

If God promised Himself that He would not interfere with the ordinary effects of both the laws of nature He created and the law of sin and death that we brought into the world, except when it came to His choice as to whom to call (justification) and when He chooses to answer the prayers of the faithful, then He could willingly limit His sovereignty without changing His character and nature.

This is why prayer is the most vital and important work of the Church, and must not be neglected. I believe God has chosen not to act sometimes until and unless we pray. This also is why God is still sovereign and not the author of evil.