Friday, November 30, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

Faith will work hard for the Lord and in the Lord's way, but she refuses so much as to lift a finger to fulfill the devices of unrighteous cunning. Rebecca acted out a great falsehood in order to fulfill the Lord's decree in  favour of Jacob -- this was unbelief; but Abraham left the Lord to fulfill His own purposes, and took the knife to slay his son -- this was faith. Faith trusts God to accomplish His own decrees.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, The Treasury of David, Psalm XXVI, (Volume 1, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 415)

How can we go about trying to do God's work in our own way? How can we avoid this?


  1. Abraham sacrificing Isaac is a classic example of how God can correct us when we think that we had heard God and we actually did not.

    1. The offering of Isaac is a difficult issue. I do not believe Abraham misheard God but I do believe it was a specialized test. Could God be trusted to fulfill His promise if the son was offered in whom the promise was based. It is a picture of God offering His own Son. But I admit it is a difficult issue.

    2. It does present the idea of obeying God by disobeying God.

    3. I understand your struggle here. I do believe that God here transcended His common moral principles to give a picture of the Father offering the Son. I do think this is something unique and not repeatable. I also think it was significant that God stopped him before he followed through. But as I said it is a difficult issue.

  2. "the Father offering the Son"

    Who did the Father offer the Son to? Himself?

    1. The Father gave the Son out of love for us, who willing paid the penalty for sin required by the Father's justice. I suppose you could say the Father offered the Son to the Father, but I prefer to look at it that the Father offered the Son for us, to save us from the penalty of sin. But the parallel I see with Abraham was the willingness to make so costly a sacrifice.

    2. I have a different view of that Mike. Jesus says in John 10:18 says ...

      "No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."

      In my view Jesus laid down his own life. God told him that the decision was fully his. In that the sacrifice of Isaac does not resemble the cross of Christ at all as the story indicates that Isaac did not know what was going on.

      It is a good thing if one wants to offer his own life. Yet it is quite another thing if one wants to offer the life of another. The former is to be admired yet the latter more resembles the act of a suicide bomber than a martyr.

    3. We are not explicitly told what Isaac did or did not understand, but if he was old enough the carry the wood and ask the questions he asked and Abraham was well over 100 I cannot believe he went any other way than willingly. even it he did not fully understand what was going on. I see Isaac acting out of love and trust of his father and quite probably love and trust of God, not just being a victim.

    4. My reading of Genesis 22 leads me to believe that Isaac had to be tied up before he was laid on the altar. Does not sound like he was too willing.

      I do understand your POV Mike. I once interpreted the passage that way to. Most view it that way because they simply will not accept the idea that Abraham was not told by God to kill Isaac. These folks go further using the Genesis passage to paint Jesus as a one who was also sacrificed by his Father.

      I am concerned for these applications because of the way that they paint our loving heavenly Father as some sort of blood thirsty deity.

    5. You say you understand my POV and you may be right, but I am not 100% sure I understand yours. Part of it is I am not at all clear how much of the issue is the sacrifice of Isaac and how much is the sacrifice of Christ. I am not sure if we can agree on the latter and cannot agree on the former or whether we do not agree on the former because we disagree on the latter. If the the first is true I do not have much else to say except that it was traditional to bind sacrifices (even a willing sacrifice could flinch away reflexively) and I do not see how an elderly man could bind a young man if he was not willing. But if it is the second, I do not understand where you are coming from clearly enough to respond to it. Could you clarify.

  3. I retract my notion that I understand where you are coming from Mike. :)

    Not sure that I understand what you are asking me. Here are a few thoughts about Isaac and Christ:

    Abraham sacrificing Isaac is a classic example of how God can correct us when we think that we had heard God and we actually did not. I do not think that God tests us this way. If I think that He asks me to kill my son I will reject that idea and I am sure you would too.

    I do not see God as the one who sacrifices human beings, or His Son, on some sort of divine altar. I understand that the Israelis embraced the idea of the blood sacrifice but it is obvious that this practice was limited to OT era. I understand that some believe that it was God who tortured and killed His Son to appease His need for a blood sacrifice but I simply cannot go there.

  4. Part of the struggle I have understanding where you are coming from on the sacrifice of Christ is you keep telling what you are against but not what you are for, which makes it hard to know precisely what your position is.

    My understanding is the Son totally voluntarily with the full support and assistance of the Father became a human being to pay the penalty we should have paid for our sin.

    Is this the position you characterize as a God who loves blood sacrifice and if so what do you put in its place? Is this not the same position and if so how do you distinguish them?

    1. I do wish we could discuss this over a cup of coffee Mike. I feel that I have written much but have not really communicated much as I continue to confuse you with what I write.

      To answer your question, the position that most closely represents mine is the Christus Victor view of the cross. Here is a snippet about it from Wikipedia:

      "this is the theory that Adam and Eve made humanity subject to the Devil during the Fall, and that God, in order to redeem humanity, sent Christ as a "ransom" or "bait" so that the Devil, not knowing Christ couldn't die permanently, would kill him, and thus lose all right to humanity following the Resurrection."

      You can read more here about Christus Victor and how it compares with the satisfaction (or penal substitution) theory of the cross.

      This view makes sense to me because the cross is no longer about the Father needing the Son's blood but about victory over evil.

      I hope this helps you to understand where I am coming from with regards to the cross.

    2. I agree that this is a complicated issue and would better be discussed face to face over coffee. It is a bit dificult to discuss something like this in a combox.I do not believe the penal substitution view means that God is a tyrant that requires blood, but that He requires justice to be satisfied. My problem with the Christus Victor view is that it gives Satan a legal right over us I do not believe he ever had and while there are Scripture verses that argue for both I am convinced that the general force better supports penal substitution though I believe in the process Christ also overcame Satan. Probably the best explanation I have posted on my view, which you may have already read is this: I do not know where to proceed from here. Should we drop the subject till we find some suitable time to discuss it. It seems that we have gone the long way around to find out what we were really talking about.

  5. Thanks again for the dialog Mike. A few questions spurred by the post you linked to and your last comment:

    "paid the price we needed to pay for our rebellion against the true King"

    Who was the price paid to? Why was a price required?

    "He requires justice to be satisfied"

    Are you saying that God embraces an eye-for-an-eye style of justice? Is that the model of divine justice that we should also follow?

    My view of justice is that it involves overcoming evil with good by loving enemies and those who have offended us. I do not think that divine justice looks like our penal system at all but looks more like helping, reconciling and restoring those who fall and make mistakes.

    All that said, I am okay to drop. I think that our views of the sacrifice of Isaac, the cross and of divine justice seem to be quite different. Not sure that we can convince each other of our views. But I am willing to continue the dialog if you are.

    Many blessings to you brother. If you ever get through KC my door is open and the BBQ is on me!

    1. I am willing to continue if you are. The problem is we seem to come into this issue sideways resulting in our starting in the middle (I never mix my metaphors :) ). This makes any complicated issue hard to discuss because you end up asking a lot of questions to figure where the other person is coming from. We could use 16 more comments to find out exactly where we are coming from in understanding God's justice (I would say I hold to both/and rather than either/or), perhaps only to find out that the real issue was something else. Therefore, while I am hesitant to say this because I still have trouble commenting on your blog (I have no trouble reading it but I have trouble getting the comment link to come up), if we want to continue I would suggest one or both us writing a post explaining the issue step by step (you may have such a post,I know I don't). I think barring sitting down over coffee (though if I ever make it to KC in I would be more than happy to take you up on the BBQ)this would be the best way to find a good starting place for the discussion and avoid having to go through several misunderstandings to get to the issue.

      But I don't know how much time you are willing to devote to this (I am a theology wonk and live to work through things like this)and I am also willing to drop it. Especially because I tend to agree when all is said and done we probably will not totally agree though we would probably be clearer on what we disagreed about.

      You're call.

    2. Perhaps we could keep it simple and discuss the different ways that we see divine justice? Seems that the retributive view of justice is quite different than the restorative view that I embrace.

      In my view retributive justice is more earthly than heavenly in that we see it in the law of sowing and reaping - actions have natural consequences. Some see God directly involved in this sort of Christian Karma but I do not.

      Restorative justice seems very different because it is focused on the ministry of the Holy Spirit - the divine paraclete who is called along side of us to help. I see God's justice this way.

      I do not see God as one who is filled with wrath and seeking retribution for offenses against him. I see him as one who is filled with love and seeking restoration.

  6. I do not see the two kinds of justice as at all contradictory. I believe God goes to great lengths to reconcile and restore us (He went to the cross) but what did He do this to restore us from. If evil is not evil, if evil does not in principle deserve punishment, why do need to be restored. Why does wrong have consequences if it does not in principle deserve those consequences. And who judges evil as evil and as deserving of consequences if not God. I do not see as some mean tyrant but a loving and just King who goes to incredible lengths to pardon us for things we fully and totally deserve to be punished for. But to totally deny any idea of retributive justice seems to me to say wrong is not wrong and right is not right. The issue is how can God be both just and loving, pardon the sinner while not justifying the sin. And I believe that by treating us according to retributive justice He treats us as responsible people who should be held accountable for our actions. I believe God goes to extraordinary lengths to reconcile us to Himself but it is not because He does not care about what is right. To love people means that you cannot just ignore how they behave and what they do to others.

  7. Thanks Mike. Responses to questions in your last comment:

    "If evil is not evil, if evil does not in principle deserve punishment, why do need to be restored."

    I believe that evil is never overcome with retribution. Evil is overcome with good - the goodness (not the wrath) of God leads to repentance. Evil is overcome with restorative justice not retributive justice. An eye-for-an-eye style of justice simply does not look like the message that Jesus consistently preached.

    "Why does wrong have consequences if it does not in principle deserve those consequences."

    Many wrong choices have consequences but they are not all sinful/evil and are simply mistakes. I do not see God standing over people waiting to judge and punish them but see Him as one who is long-suffering and patient with us. I do not see consequences as some sort of divine personal retribution but simply a natural means of pointing us to God.

    "And who judges evil as evil and as deserving of consequences if not God."

    This seems to indicate that you see God being directly involved in the micro-management of the human race meting out eye-for-an-eye retributive consequences whenever one sins. I do not see that level of divine involvement.

    "But to totally deny any idea of retributive justice seems to me to say wrong is not wrong and right is not right."

    It seems that restorative justice speaks to the idea that something is wrong and needs to be changed. I do not think that God embraces an eye-for-an-eye system of justice that you descibe.

    "The issue is how can God be both just and loving, pardon the sinner while not justifying the sin."

    I think that grace means that we do not get what we deserve. Restorative justice means that the grace of God has overcome our sin and worked it for good.

    "To love people means that you cannot just ignore how they behave and what they do to others."

    Then why did Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile and love our enemies? Do we not bear with people in their sins and work with them to bring restoration in their lives? Does God ask us to behave in a way that is contrary to the way that he acts?

    Appreciate the dialog.

  8. I either just lost a very lengthy comment or you have begun to moderate our dialog?

    1. I will reply to your main comment later after I have had a chance to compose my thoughts, but I apologize that your comments were thrown into moderation. I had a setting that put comments into moderation after 14 days and did not realize we had reached that point. I have changed the setting.

    2. Np problem Mike. I may have to check that setting on mine as well. :)

  9. I fully agree with about 80% of what you have said, that it is God's kindness and goodness that leads us to repentance and God gives us what we do not deserve. But to say God gives us what we to not deserve implies there is something else we do deserve. The is a difference between the kind and gracious king who forgives a debt rightly owed and the indulgent king who says it does not matter.

    Whether God micro-manages the universe is another question but what I am maintaining here is He puts in place the basic principles. It almost sounds like you are saying there is a law above God that He is stuck with and has to find some way to work around.

    I believe that commandments you mention such as turn the other cheek forbid the response of immediate retaliation but requires us to respond with graciousness to affront. There is also the concept in Scripture that we are not the best judge of our own case, but should leave these in the hand of God. But it does not say that justice such never be done and even leaves a place for objective human authorities in the church and government to settle disputes. I fully believe that God models this, that He is slow to anger, sends rain on the just and that just and the unjust and has waited about 2000 years and counting to give people a chance to repent. But that does not mean in the final analysis justice should not be satisfied.

    But the bottom line for me is that no matter how gracious God is people make choices and I am convinced they are real choices and not just the result of our heredity and upbringing. And no matter how loving God is people can still reject Him. I have been an elder for about 20 years in two different churches. I used to believe that if I could just get people to sit down and talk things over we could work them out. I have long since been disabused of that notion. I have had to make hard choices on what was really best for the people involved. I am not claiming I always made the right choice, but I do not think the choice was imaginary. I do not think that love can look down over a world of vicious dictators and hardened criminals and see their victims and say there does not deserve to be justice. I am not saying God does not forgive and restore such people, I fully believe He can. I am not saying I better than such people, I fully believe I have the same sinful nature they do and I am only saved by the grace of God. But I cannot say such behavior does not deserve punishment.

  10. Hope you do not mind that I am quoting you and responding to what you write Mike. Helps me to keep from going off topic.

    "The is a difference between the kind and gracious king who forgives a debt rightly owed and the indulgent king who says it does not matter."

    Never said it does not matter. Choices matter. God created the world with natural consequences. And ultimately a person will not see heaven as the consequence of their choices. A simple heart-filled yes to Jesus changes everything.

    "It almost sounds like you are saying there is a law above God that He is stuck with and has to find some way to work around."

    Not sure why you feel that I am saying that. Life is filled with natural laws that God created. There is no law above God.

    "But that does not mean in the final analysis justice should not be satisfied."

    I simply do not see that eye-for-an-eye type of satisfaction in the gospels. I think revenge is a poor substitute for justice.

    "And no matter how loving God is people can still reject Him."

    Absolutely. Real love does not require a desired response but loves unconditionally.

    "I have been an elder for about 20 years in two different churches."

    I think that you and I have had similar experiences. A few years ago I was part of an elder team that dismissed 3 pastors on one day. Actions and choices have consequences.

    "But I cannot say such behavior does not deserve punishment."

    Wondering if you see a difference between discipline and punishment. An eye-for-an-eye approach seems to involve retributive punishment while discipline is more about restorative justice.

  11. We seem to be agreeing on a number of things but the main difference is you seem to see retributive justice and restorative justice as two totally alien concepts and I do not. I do not see them as two independent boxes that do not go together but two aspects of the same thing. I believe that sin deserves punishment but God goes to great lengths deliver us from that punishment including taking the punishment on Himself. But those who reject all His efforts must face the punishment they deserve. The reason I was suggesting that you were advocating a law above God is you seem to be suggesting God can be only kind and loving and never has to be the One says "depart from Me you who practice lawlessness." God acts in discipline to correct people, but if they will not corrected can what is left be called anything but punishment.

  12. I struggle with knowing what you mean when you write about divine retributive justice. Is it an eye-for-an-eye style of justice. Is it similar to the divine judgement theology that Job's friends believed in? Maybe you could give me some examples.

    1. Perhaps the best way to answer that is to start by explaining my understanding of the Old Testament Law. I believe following the apostle Paul that the purpose of the Law is to show us what sin is and what it deserves that we might flee to God for mercy. The error of the Pharisees and Job's comforters was they thought they could actually keep the Law and could therefore demand a quid pro quo. But In the Old Testament I see God frequently forgiving people rather then calling for the full rigor of the Law to be enforced (for example in the case of King David). But what I mean by retributive justice is there is a penalty sin really deserves. I would hold it is the fact of this desert that makes forgiveness and restoration possible. If someone owes me $100 I can forgive him from paying me that money. But if someone owes me nothing there is nothing to forgive them. If there is not desert to sin then everything seems to melt down into the modern moral mush where nothing is really right or wrong. It is difficult for me to give you examples because I believe the only places God deals in pure retributive judgment is hell and the cross and even there I would not say there is no mercy involved. But it is retributive justice being true in the abstract that makes restorative justice make sense.

    2. I am still confused by what you mean by retributive justice Mike. Maybe a few more questions will help?

      "what I mean by retributive justice is there is a penalty sin really deserves"

      There is a penalty with restorative justice as well - sometimes natural consequences and sometimes, in the case of unbelief, eternal consequences. I think that you do not see a difference in a sin that leads to death (i.e. unbelief) and a sin that does not.

      "God deals in pure retributive judgment is hell and the cross"

      Your struggle to describe what retributive judgment is in the here and now speaks to why our conversarion has been so difficult. You do not point to examples in life or in the scriptures of how God is exacting retribution in life but can only point to it in the afterlife. You do not seem to see it in calamities like Job had or Katrina victims endured or even the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira and cannot point me to places where you feel that God has exacted retributive justice. So I am left with not understanding how you use the term and what the term really means to you.

      Not sure that it makes sense to discuss the issue if we cannot understand the words and terminology that we are using?

  13. I have noticed that there is a Wikipedia entry that might help us with terminology at

    Perhaps you could contrast that with your views?

    1. I agree it is difficult to discuss something without understanding the words and part of the problem is I have been trying to describe things using your words and perhaps not understanding them. If I where putting it in my own terms I would speak of justice, which is giving someone what they deserve and mercy which is not giving someone what they deserve, but this seems to gloss over the distinction you seem to be trying to make. I categorically reject the idea that people in this life receive what they deserve or that the fact a person is suffering means they have done something wrong. Scripture clearly denies this. I do find in Scripture that God can use circumstances to correct people. But I also find He can use suffering in the lives of those who are obedient to teach them to trust Him and grow. I also believe He uses kindness and patience toward those who reject Him to give them opportunity to repent. I do not believe we can always tell exactly what God is trying to do in our lives or the lives of others. That is why I pushed things into the afterlife because I believe it is only there that the scales are really balanced. I believe every event in this life is a mixture of justice and mercy and often only God knows the exact proportions of each.

      As for the wikipedia article I am not sure whether it helps or muddies the waters as I reject both options. I do not think the best way to run a society is justice without mercy. If that is what retributive justice is I reject it. It assumes a nation of basically upright people and I believe we are sinners who cannot live up to it. But I believe a society with no idea of justice is pure anarchy. There has to be a careful and difficult balance between the two. But I reject even more a society based simply on what happens to be convenient or what seems to work. A government can only justify meting out punishments based on the fact the people involved deserve it.

      So perhaps I do not understand what your distinction between retributive and restorative justice. I thought did but maybe I am wrong. Can you clarify or are there some other terms that might make it clear?

  14. I think that it would be fair to say that you mainly see the justice of God as a post-death phenomenon. With respect to that I would say that the difference I have is that we, the body of Christ, have a role in justice before death. If we are really His body then we are surely his agents of justice in the world. The question is what kind of justice will we embrace. Will our message be:

    1) sinners in the hand of an angry God or lost sheep that Jesus came to save?

    2) an OT eye-for-an-eye style of justice or one that goes the extra mile and restores the lost lamb?

    3) the self-righteous disdain for people who deserve retributive justice or a heart that runs after the worst of humanity in hopes of restoration?

    I suspect that you might say that you embrace both versions. I do not embrace an angry God. I look at Jesus and I see the personification of love and compassion and not anger. On the very rare occasion when Jesus did seem angry it was at the self-righteous not the lost sheep, outcasts and "sinners".

    For me it is Who we see when we see God and who we see when we see people. Do we see Jesus or a God of Wrath. Do we see "sinners" or do we see lost sheep? It is a matter of vision. We get to choose which God we preach and what type of justice we practice as his ambassadors.

    Reading this over it sounds a bit preachy Mike. Not sure how else to put it though. My main point is that we are God's ambassadors. As such our view of justice speaks to others of our view of God and our view of them.

    Hope your week is off to a great start!

    1. Bob, I don't want to get preachy either, but I feel like you have turned everything I said on its head. I did not say there was no justice in this life or we should not work for justice, but that there was and should not be justice without mercy. My intent in doing so was to repudiate the very thing you seem to be accusing me of. I agree that the thing Jesus was most clearly angry at was those who where self-righteous. While I am not going to say this is an example of retributive justice as I am not totally sure what you mean by it, but it is the closest thing to pure justice I see exhibited in this life. But He was angry and I do not see this as disproving desert but showing desert. The problem with the Pharisees was not that they believed in justice but they thought they were just and justice without mercy is not true justice but injustice. What I believe we need is not a weaker idea of justice but a stronger idea of justice. One that brings us to our knees and makes us cry out "Lord be merciful to me a sinner," rather then thinking we have a right to look down on others. But a weak idea of justice says that not even the Pharisees deserve to be condemned and there is not any basis to be angry with them. The only life that measures up at the bar of justice is the life of total love and mercy. End of sermon.:)

      But I do not know if this will help or merely confuse things more but sometimes the easiest way to see where someone is coming from is to see what they are against. I was hesitate to do this for fear of having you think I am accusing you of this and I am not I am using this as an illustration to show where I am coming from. It is a common idea in our culture that people are not responsible agents who can be held accountable for their actions but are merely victims of their psychological quirks. Therefore rather than seeing them as those who deserve punishment they are simply cases to be cured. This sounds very merciful but it ends up reducing us from adult human beings to white rats in a maze. Further it means people can be cured of anything the state considers abnormal or inconvenient regardless of whether they really deserve and can be made to endure anything that is thought necessary to cure them even if it is hideously disproportionate to the offense. It is for the reason among others that I hold strongly to the idea that people should only be punished according to what they deserve. Now in doing so I do think it is necessary to show mercy. I also believe we should do whatever we can to help them become responsible members of society. But if there is no desert there is no basis for interfering in their lives at all.

      Hope your week is also off to a great start.

  15. I think that I agree with everything in your last comment. That said I do no see what it had to do with my last comment that spoke to how justice is a reflection of how we see God.

    1. It seems we agree on everything except what we disagree on and we have trouble pinning down what that is. I would have thought I already answered your question but I will try again. If by a God of wrath you mean some kind of stern martinet who has no mercy and rains down lightening bolts on everyone who gets an inch out of line, this is not at all who God is. I agree the example is Jesus. But while He is indeed incredibly gracious and merciful I do not see Him as devoid of all angry against wrongdoing. He turned over the moneychangers table and called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. He was quite pointed in the Sermon on the Mount as to what sin deserved. It is true that He was more angry with the martinets than any others because that is not what God's justice requires but rather the carrying out of God's example of mercy. I do not believe we should see God as always mad at us but as One who loved us enough to take the punishment we deserved. Be I also do not see Him as being unconcerned about what is right and wrong and what wrong does deserves. If He was not concerned about it, why would He require us to do what is right. It is a delicate balance but one I believe it must be maintained.

  16. "I agree the example is Jesus."

    Lets close our wonderful dialog with that Mike. I so appreciate the time that you have taken in this comment thread and have enjoyed discussing many topics with you here.

    Much love and blessings to you in this wonderful season of joy! Look forward to sharing many more thoughtful exchanges with you in the New Year.

    1. Much love and blessings to you too, look forward to our next discussion.