Trees and spears--a post-Easter remembrance and prayer of hope

A few weeks ago, Layman began a discussion concerning some difficult claims, disputed to some degree among various schools of Christian theology. The record of this discussion so far can be found here and here and here.

In the second round of discussion, I was asked by Puritan Lad (one of the other regular contributors to that discussion), to explain if I could the case of Absalom, son of David. PL’s contention was that Absalom counts as an example of someone pre-determined by God to do things for which God would then hopelessly damn him. (At least, if this was not PL’s intention, then bringing up Absalom’s case would be kind of useless, since this is the topic we were discussing at the time. {s}) Specifically, PL asked me to explain (tacitly meaning explain in another way, if I could), the prediction testified to in 2 Samuel 12:11-12.

At the time, I opted to answer as well as I could according to principle, rather than according to story context, seeing as how principle would be of more immediate importance, besides which I was (at that time) engaged in editing and posting a complex (though thankfully previously composed {s!}) series of harmonization entries concerning the final 80 days (more or less) of Jesus’ earthly ministry. So, being already deeply engaged in one story-context project, and realizing that trying to answer along _both_ lines I would only double the length of what was necessarily a long comment on principle anyway, I deferred until a more opportune time.

Having finished posting my larger Easter project, then, and having rested for a week or so--now is a more opportune time. {g!}

Besides which, I decided I would prefer to wait until I finished telling the story (according to the scriptures) of one Son of David hanging on a tree, pierced by a spear; before going into detail about the story (according to the scriptures) of another son of David hanging on a tree, pierced by a spear.

To begin with, then: Absalom _was_ alive when the prediction given by Nathan in 2 Sam (as referred to by PL) happened, and was already of the age of a warrior. (This is incidentally a reply to the contention that God made this decision _for_ Absalom, _before_ Absalom’s birth.)

Not long after the Bathsheba incident, for which sin God had promised to punish David as reported in the scripture referenced by PL, Absalom's sister Tamor was assaulted and raped by their half-brother Amnon (same father, different mother). Instead of taking immediate revenge (despite the public anger of David against Amnon) Absalom bided his time and carefully waited over two years until he could slay Amnon in revenge in a fashion that wouldn't start a civil war among the sons. This occurred not very long after the birth of Solomon.

In order to avoid the expected wrath of David (and the definite wrath of the other sons of David), Absalom fled to Geshur, and remained there for three years. But David wasn't angry with Absalom, and in fact was comforted that Absalom had arranged a proper punishment for Amnon that wouldn't involve civil war. Still, neither did David invite Absalom to return for three years, until a prophetess from Tekoa (put up by Absalom's friend Joab ben Zeruiah) played a role very similar to Nathan in encouraging David to summon back Absalom.

(Incidentally, this woman is rather interesting. She is evidently not a Jew, for she constantly speaks of the Lord being _David's_ God, and is not exactly giving prophecy--more like Joab hired her to give wisdom to the king. Even so, she knows and respects YHWH by reputation at least, and speaks along lines she expects David to accept; and one of the arguments she gives, which David does accept as being a right description of YHWH, is this: that in not bringing back his banished son, David is not properly representing YHWH to the people. "For we shall surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does _not_ take away life, but plans devices so that the banished one may not remain cast out from Him!" Be that as it may.)

David then summons Absalom to return from exile; yet at the last minute as Absalom is approaching, David makes a decision (political expediency is strongly implied by previous story context) to prevent Absalom from even meeting him, much less returning to live with him.

After about two more years of living in this new effective exile, on property outside Jerusalem, Absalom decided enough was enough and instituted a long-range plan (running over the next four years) to stage a coup against David. David refused to fight the coup, essentially accepting that this was his punishment for what he had done regarding Uriah (the loyal husband whom David had had murdered in order to cover up his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and claim the woman for himself.)

When Absalom's troops invested Jerusalem (some of whom had come not realizing a coup was in progress), he sent for a chief among the priests, Ahithophel the Gilonite, one of David's trusted counselors--the story puts it this way, that "the advice of Ahithophel which he gave in those days was as if one had inquired of the Logos of God", i.e. he was treated as a prophet. This is how David had considered him, and how Absalom considered him as well.

Absalom inquired of Ahith, "Give me your advice, what shall I do now?" By story context, he is asking advice on helping cement the coup against David.

Ahith replied that Absalom should sexually take David's wives (ten concubines or secondary wives had been left behind by David in order to keep the court going in his absence--possibly for spying and intelligence purposes, too, as David clearly did in other regards such as leaving his counselor Hushai behind as an agent); and he instructed Absalom to make sure to do so publicly. In this way he would make himself 'odious' to David, i.e. David would not be able to negotiate with him (as this would be a symbolic way of making a public stance permanently against David in supplanting him). Consequently, the hands of those who were currently supporting Absalom would be strengthened--there would be no negotiation, it would be all or nothing now.

Which is what Absalom did, pitching the tent on the roof of the palace, so that everyone in Jerusalem (who cared to do so) could see that he was going into David's concubines.

And _THAT_ was the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy, back in 2 Sam 12:11-12, which was specifically given to be a mirror of what David had done in regard to Bathsheba and Uriah: "Thus says the Lord, 'Behold I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I Myself will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. You yourself did this, secretly; but _I_ will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun!'"

Now, should we focus on this having been done via God simply 'hardening' Absalom's heart?

The story is rather more nuanced than that, concerning the general coup: Absalom, who himself had waited several years in quiet to commit revenge against his brother, could have naturally thought that David's lack of action against him pro or con (the story puts Absalom's initial lack of action the same way) was intended to be a similar threat against him. And David chooses to keep the ban against his son, apparently for political expediency, _rather than_ doing justice and mercy for his son; this is also very strongly put in the story. The upshot is that this happens partly because David allows political expediency to get in the way of doing what he ought to have been doing as a servant and representative of God: working to bring the rebel child home in reconciliation!

In any case, nowhere in the story does it ever say that God even put anything into Absalom's heart, much less compelled Absalom to misbehave against David insofar as Absalom _was_ misbehaving. There was certainly some of that, too; but much of his side of the story involves wanting to have been treated fairly by his father for doing the right thing in regard to avenging Tamor with as little bloodshed as possible, and being upset that David wasn't rendering justice to him, and probably fearing (given the story contexts and emphases) that after all David was planning to murder him--something that David had already done once in secret by careful policy wrangling, remember. (Which is not-incidentally connected to _this_ story, via the prophecy of Nathan.)

As the story proceeds, David shows mercy to a man who had once served Saul, who treats David as a traitor and usurper constantly cursing him (indeed, David treats him in return as being perhaps a prophet!) More importantly, David is constantly instructing his troops to go easy on Absalom if they get the chance.

Interestingly, Joab, Absalom's friend (who knowing that David wanted the prince to return acted as mediator for the return) is given command of a third of David's troops. Despite being strictly charged by David _not_ to hurt Absalom when Absalom's forces pursue David's withdrawing army to a fortress past Jericho, instigating a battle, Joab insults a soldier for not taking advantage of Absalom's vulnerability (the prince having been caught by his famously dense hair when his mule ran under thick tree branches during the fight in the forests of Ephraim), and then goes himself and mortally wounds Absalom with spears, his bodyguards afterward hacking Absalom to death--while the son of David is hanging helplessly and in wrenching pain from that tree.

Now, does everyone rejoice and jump up and down that Absalom is dead? Yes, there is some of that at first--from the victorious troops anyway, routing the armies of northern Israel.

But does David the king rejoice in this?

_NO!_ Instead, his heart is entirely _for_ his rebellious son!--and when he learns that Absalom has died, he is greatly grieved and tries to go off in private to mourn, but the people can hear him wailing, "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!!”

And the salvation of that day was turned to mourning for all the people, for the people heard that day that the king was grieved for his son; and they went by stealth into the city that day, as people who are humiliated steal away when they flee in battle...

...and yet, somehow, these millenia later, we are asked by some theologians, to look upon Absalom as an example of one who was driven by God to be _forsaken_ by God!!--the implication being that here is a man to whom _we_ should show no mercy, expecting no mercy to be shown to him by God!!

Yet David cried, “would that I had died instead of thee!”

Would we not do better, then, to show mercy in _our_ hearts to Absalom, as David himself would have had us do, had we been alive in that day?

And would we not do better, then, to see how the Son of David, God Incarnate, submitted to be hung _Himself_ on a tree, to be stabbed with a blade to the heart, mutilated by a corps of bodyguards--does He _not_, then, in doing so and dying, fulfill the cry of David?

Or shall we say that the Son of David, the Anointed King, the Word of God Incarnate, does _less_ in fulfilling all righteousness, than his father David the merely human king--the murderer and the adulterer?

I suggest, then, that a theologian had better be careful in bringing up Absalom as an example of one pre-damned by God.

For I perceive that the Son of David hung from a tree for the sake of the son of David--who hung from a tree.

If not for him, then not for me either,

the sinner.


Thus says the Lord [proclaims the prophet Jeremiah]:
A voice is heard in Ramah [or on the height],
wailing and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children.
She refuses to be comforted
for her children
--for they are _not_!

Thus says the Lord,
“Restrain your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is reward for your painful labor
declares the Lord!

“And they
(that is, her children, who had been destroyed to the utmost death)
shall return from the land of the enemy
and there is hope for your future
declares the Lord!

“And your children shall return
to their own homeland!

“For, I have surely heard Ephraim sorrowing,
‘You have chastened me, and I was chastened
just like a rebellious calf!
Bring me back (cries Ephraim)
that I may be restored,
for _You_ are YHWH Adonai!

‘For now that I have turned back
I am filled with remorse (‘I repent’)
And now that I am made aware,
I _strike_ my thigh!!
I am ashamed and humiliated,
for I bear the reproach of my youth.’

“Ephraim--truly, to Me a dear son,
a child of joy!
I promise, as often as I have spoken against him,
I certainly _do_ remember him still!!
This is why My innermost heart
is yearning for him!
I certainly _will_ receive him back in merciful love!!”
declares the Lord.

Set up roadmarks for yourself,
put up guiding signs,
and keep in mind the highway,
the way by which you went!

Return, O maiden Israel!
Return to these your cities!
How long will you go here and there,
rebellious daughter?

For the Lord is doing a new thing in the earth:

a woman will encompass a man!

(Jeremiah 31:15-22; meaning of Hebrew in final phrase mysterious... how is it then that in encompassing a man, a woman shall do a new thing for God, involving the redemption and restoration of the beloved rebellious chastised son Ephraim...?)

Jason Pratt


Puritan Lad said…
Jason (and Layman),

I first want to thank both of you for the disposition of these threads. It is rare that a topic of such controversy can be discussed with a loving temperament, even among the saints of God. With that said, let me address a few points:

I will acknowledge, as would an sane Calvinist, that Absalom’s wickedness was purely Absalom’s. He did the work, and was fully responsible for his actions. (And certainly this grieved David, perhaps even more as he saw this prophecy fulfilled.) With regards to such evil, and evil that we see in our times, I can’t help but notice that horrible displays of evil today are looked upon with great wonder and shock, (ie. the Virginia Tech shootings in my own backyard – please keep the families of these poor students in prayer.) If you look at the news coverage of this, it is easy to notice that everyone is asking how something like this could happen. As expected, the shooter is being “psychoanalyzed” to death, and I’ve been dealing with the “religion” of pop-psychology on my personal blog.

What no one seems to ask, though, is the question, why doesn’t this type of thing happen more often? It is just assumed, due solely to common grace, that men are basically good, and that such things should never happen. However, ee should not be surprised that such evil exists, for “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This is where common grace comes in. It is common grace that kept me from becoming a serial killer or a terrorist before I was saved. It is that grace that keeps unsaved people from really going off of the deep end. Let’s face it; some of the nicest people you know don’t know Jesus.

However, common grace cannot save. Salvation requires the same supernatural and divine light that allowed Peter to confess Christ as the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:17). Without that special revelation, no man can come to Christ (John 6:65).

Back to Absalom, God did not have to make Absalom sin. Absalom already had enough sin in himself. As Thomas Brooks wrote, “Sin in a wicked man is like poison in a serpent; it is in its natural place." All God has to do is to “set them in slippery places” and thus He “makes them fall to ruin”. (Psalms 73:18). It is God who send evil and lying Spirits to the wicked (See 1 Kings 22:19-23; 1 Samuel 16:14-23, 1 Samuel 18:10, 1 Samuel 19:9). God is said to "lay a stumbling block to make men fall" (Romans 9:33) and "send strong delusion, that they should believe lies," (2 Thessalonians 2:11). This is what He did to Absalom.

So when you claim that, “nowhere in the story does it ever say that God even put anything into Absalom's heart, much less compelled Absalom to misbehave against David”, you are partly correct. God Himself does not compel people to sin. He doesn’t have to. Man’s sin is his anchor. God’s grace is the buoy. Remove God’s common grace and man will sink to his ruin. So you are correct that God does not “compel” man to sin, for man is already so compelled. God does, however, predestine and work in the sinful acts of wicked men without being the direct author of sin. There is really no getting around the clear text of 2 Samuel 2:11-12. God boldly claimed this to be His work, and that He Himself would do it openly before all Israel and before the sun.

I would not boldly lay such a claim about God if it were not so clearly taught in Scripture. Absalom’s case is certainly not unique in this regard. It was God who sent Joseph to Egypt (Genesis 45:7). How did God do that? It was the hand of the Lord that brought about of Job’s trials (Job 12:9).

The most obvious example of God’s sovereignty in the acts of wicked men was the crucifixion of His own Son. Certainly, you would agree that this act was predestined by God, for Christ was the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) It was not only the permission, but the will of God for His Son to be slain (Luke 22:42). In fact, it was God Himself who performed the work, because it pleased Him to do so (Isaiah 53:10). God was actively working in the following sinful acts; that Judas betrayed Christ; that the Jews plotted to kill Him; and that the Romans carried out their act, for all these did nothing but "what the hand and counsel of God had decreed" (Acts 4:27-28). This is affirmed by Peter, that Christ was "delivered to death by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2:23); in other words, that God, to whom all things are known from the beginning, had willed (not just permitted) what the Jews and Romans had executed. He repeats the same thing elsewhere, “Those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled,” (Acts 3:18). They were all "disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. (1 Peter 2:8). Surely you don't think that God left His plan for redeeming the world up to the "free will" of those wicked men?

Let me end this marathon response with a question posed by Stephen Charnock. “But what if the foreknowledge of God, and the liberty of the will cannot be reconciled by man? Shall we therefore deny a perfection in God to support a liberty in ourselves? Shall we rather fasten ignorance upon God, and accuse Him of blindness to maintain our liberty?" O the magnitude of God’s Sovereignty. Let us give Him all the glory for our salvation, and let us attribute nothing to ourselves.
Jason Pratt said…

I also appreciate the disposition of your side of the discussion so far; and I agree, it’s rare to have such dispositions in topics of such controversy.

That being said, I wish you had taken the time to catch up fully on where we were already at, in the discussion. Had you done so, my response here wouldn't have needed to be even more marathonish. {wry s!}

You do make reference to one thing I say above, in my report of Absalom’s story--a reference you try to claim is only partially correct, when had you read the story you would have seen that it is _entirely_ correct as it stands: there is nothing in the story or in the prophecy preceding the story, that says either clearly or unclearly that God even put anything into the heart of Absalom. (Into Ahith’s heart, maybe; _that_ might be inferrable from the story contexts, though that isn’t said clearly either. At least get your ‘evil inspiration’ target correct. {g})

Which would be a problem (I mean against your contention) if I was _denying_ that God could and occasionally does do that kind of thing. Which I was _not_ denying. Which you nevertheless treat me as though I was denying it anyway. Which you could have avoided doing had you actually gone back and caught up on where the discussion was.

The same goes for numerous topics in your comment. There is practically no _continuation_ of the discussion that has been going on for a while now already. For all practical purposes it’s a startover, as if we hadn’t already been discussing these things at length.

So, in your comment you didn’t even touch the main reason I wrote the report of Absalom’s story. The certain fact that nowhere is it reported _how_ God brings about the rape of David’s concubines is something I mentioned only in passing, (though in a way it is understandable that you seized on it.) What I had asked (and implicitly answered with the rest of the account) was whether we ought to be focusing our attention in this story on God having done this by hardening Absalom’s heart. (The initial short answer to which, I said, was “The story is rather more nuanced than that.” _To_ which I then added later the entirely correct statement: “nowhere in the story does it ever say that God even put anything into Absalom’s heart, much less compelled Absalom to misbehave against David.”)

But that was far from being the most important reason I went to the trouble to give the account in some fullness. And _that_ reason--the reason for which I gave that long prattling entry {self-critical g!} the title of “Trees and spears”, you did not address.

You did mention David’s grief; you did _not_ mention David’s love, nor how he expressed that love in his grief, nor what that expression means in light of what you would have us believe concerning the ultimate fate of Absalom. Absalom, in short, is not a good example of someone whom we should consider to be hopelessly predamned by God.

On the contrary, God Himself willingly submits as a Son of David to die in a fashion typologically similar to the rebel son of David, out of the same concern for his rebel children which David (though impotent and a sinner himself) had for _his_ rebel son. God shares the love of David, and the death of Absalom.

In doing so, I may also add that He shares in the suffering of the women Absalom violated. He _insists_ in that prophecy on having the responsibility for bringing that violation about; whether directly or by permission (though the language of the prophecy is stronger than permission, I agree; and _DID_ agree, though you ignored or missed that.) He also pays for it, and suffers with the victims. The Son, God Incarnate, the Word Who gave that prophecy as His own intention, suffers with the sinner and the victims alike: the innocent suffer together with the guilty, for the sake of the guilty.

You will acknowledge, you say, as would any sane Calvinist, that Absalom’s wickedness was purely Absalom’s.

Which of course is not remotely a point in contention among any of the three sides (Calv, Arm, and Kath, let us call them for short. {s!}) Arms and Kaths start to complain when this is claimed _and also_ that God completely controlled and brought about the sin (_and also_, not incidentally, that God has no responsibility for the sin that happens.)

You’ve been going both ways on that pretty steadily, though, both in your comments during this discussion and in the journal entries you’ve pointed to during this discussion. If God wills _and not just in the sense of permitting_ (as you say) what the Jews and Romans do, then you cannot say elsewhere that God is _not_ “direct author” of what the Jews and Romans do, without contradicting yourself.

As I mentioned before, at length (which you did not discuss or apparently even realize I had said), much of the Calv vs. Arm problem stems from each side presenting God and thus His foreknowledge, as if God was an entity dependently constrained to the time and space of our natural system.

Your question from Stephen Charnock which you (rhetorically?) challenged me with at the end of your comment, is _precisely_ an example of this sort of thing: the apparent irresolvability of God’s foreknowledge and man’s free will, depends on God being considered as essentially existant under natural time, so that the only way He can ensure that something happens ‘in the future’ is to sacrifice the free will of the other people involved--or else God must ‘give up’ His sovereignty, which is apparently to be considered only as an effect-inducement ability.

But this notion of God is a technical heresy: space/time and any other creation depends upon God, and exists within _Him_, not the other way around. God’s “foreknowledge” is even _less_ incommensurable with derivative “free will” than _my_ knowledge of whatever you are doing this moment is. I see you doing things here, back then, and later. I have to experience this sequentially; God sees it all at once and acts all at once, in a unity of purpose throughout every point of space and time, in regard to you and everything else.

You may disagree, perhaps, that this notion of God is orthodox; and/or that holding it solves the supposed irreconcilability (or even the risk thereof) of divine foreknowledge and human free will. But at least treat me as though I have already written about this in some detail (which I have), instead of putting questions to me as if I had never bothered to spend time and effort saying anything yet on the matter.

(Thus my short answer to Charnock’s question is, “It’s a false dilemma. If you’ve arrived at an irreconcilability there, you ought to recognize this as a sign that you’ve probably done your theology wrong somewhere!” But you should have known already that this would be my answer.)

To say the least, robustly affirming the ontological superiority of God (which, I am saying, _removes_ the supposed either/or dilemma), is not even remotely beginning to question or disavow the sovereignty of God. Yet despite this, you have commented as though I am either trying to do this or am in some danger of it. Uh, no, if anything I’m affirming it _more_ thoroughly than many Calvs and Arms in my experience. {s}

Yet again, you have commented as though I was denying that God ever could or does affect a person’s heart in one or another direction, including in Absalom’s case. Whereas I spent a very long time discussing this _and being willing to affirm it_, even including in Absalom’s case, back when you originally challenged me with Absalom’s case. As it happens, there is nothing in the story to specifically say that God hardened Absalom’s heart to sin. (I can quote 2 Sam just as well as you can--in fact I _did_ quote and report 2 Sam, at length! {g} Which is why I know I am more than “partially correct” about that kind of thing not being said, clearly or unclearly, about Absalom in the story.) Nevertheless, I went ahead and discussed hardening cases in principle anyway, and I discussed that _first_. Whether you agree with my evaluation or not, I wish you had at least shown some acknowledgement that I had discussed it.

Yet again: had you caught up on the discussion, you would have realized it is only specious to tell me “Let’s face it; some of the nicest people you know don’t know Jesus.” I wasn’t remotely in any denial of that; nor was I even remotely in any denial of the sinfulness of man, both as a hereditary effect and as personal choices on our part. As I recall, Layman (the other primary fellow in our discussion) wasn’t denying these things either, and instead was affirming them. Who exactly were your writing to, then? At best, this is no continuation of an ongoing discussion, but a convenient porting-over of something else you wrote for another purpose and audience. That, or you were letting your rhetoricizing blind you to the people you were supposed to be discussing with.

So, some of the nicest people I know don’t know Jesus--a fact I assure you I am _very_ keenly aware of already, thank you.

Jesus _does_ however know _them_!

What you have been describing under the title of ‘common grace’, is also known as the fruits of the Spirit. Their “niceness”--their love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (or trustworthiness), gentleness, and self-control, insofar as they have these things--couldn’t be happening unless God was at work in them (all three Persons--for where one Person is in operation, all three Persons are in operation, else we’re affirming tritheism instead of trinitarian theism). But it also couldn’t be happening unless they were _themselves_ cooperating with “the Light Who is enlightening _everyone_ who is coming into the world.” (John 1:9; cf also Rom 2.)

This is why there is condemnation in sin; people choose to turn against even what light they _can_ see. And, since we’re facing things, let’s face it: that includes us “Christians”, too. {s} We’re all in the same boat together. (Which is why I have no problem in the slightest affirming that when writers such as the Hebraist and Peter in his second epistle talk about backsliding Christians, they’re talking about backsliding Christians.)

This points up something that the Kaths criticise the Arms and Calvs on. To say “common grace cannot save”, is in _any_ case a mis-description. At best what it means is, “God is not choosing to use _that_ action on His part to save someone.” And here is where what a Kath would call a false division comes in.

What is it we are being primarily saved from? The biblical answer is, “from sin.” We are _not_ being _primarily_ saved from hell, or from God’s punishment, much less from God Himself. We are being saved from our sinning; and also from other people sinning. The _effects_ of sin are slated to be healed, sooner or later, one way or another. But until we are saved from our _sinning_, we will only be introducing new sin-effects on occasion.

Now, it is blatantly obvious to me that when people are cooperating with the Holy Spirit, with fruits of the Holy Spirit being the evident result for me to notice (although this could be happening without _me_ necessarily noticing any fruits right that moment), then positive progress is being made in the process of their being saved from sin, by God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all three.)

They may not know the most correct metaphysical doctrines; but the prostitutes and traitors who were entering into the kingdom ahead of the chiefs and scribes probably weren’t reciting the catholic faith statement from the Athanasian Creed or even recognizing Jesus as God Incarnate yet, either. (It is interesting how often popular representations of the rebel on the cross interpolate some kind of ‘saving knowledge’ confession into his dialogue. There is nothing of that doctrinal kind in the text, though. He doesn’t even call Jesus, ‘Sir’!)

Speaking as someone who would count among Christians as a scribe and a rabbi: that’s something _I_ had better damned well (so to speak {theological g}) keep in mind. So, I tithe a lot from my hyper-doctrinaire-ality, do I? But _that_ poor woman over there, who hasn’t got much of a clue at all of what to believe, may be giving all of what little two cents she has. Guess who is ahead of _me_ in the kingdom already, then? And not because she somehow made those two cents herself--by which I mean her resources, whatever they are. She didn’t; but she is cooperating with God in receiving and giving, as a steward of what little she has been given. Freely given, she received; the poor woman is giving, freely given. She is walking according to what light she has attained (a light that came from her? an ability to walk that came from her? an existence on her part that came from her? No!!), and is looking for more light thereby.

Which, I will also add, is highly romantic. {chivalric g!}

I am extremely far from denying, then, that salvation requires the same supernatural and divine light that allowed Peter to confess Christ as the Son of the Living God. He was walking according to how much of the light he could see, looking for more light thereby, and was rewarded with that revelation. Soon after which he stumbled badly. (“That be far from thee, Lord!” “You get behind _Me_, Satan!” Plus Christ’s warning soon afterward in the story that His own disciples were gravely misunderstanding the character of God and the Messiah; and unless _they_ repented they would under no circumstances be entering into the kingdom. Much is expected from those to whom much is given.)

What I do deny, as a Kath, is that what you are calling “common grace” is something other than the same supernatural and divine light by which we are saved from sin. It is true, without that light no man can come to Christ; moreover, without that light, which _is_ God in action (therefore _is_ Christ), no man is even a living spirit in the image of God--therefore is without sin as is any nonrational thing (though as with many non-rational things, even the whole natural system or ‘kosmos’, the creature may still need healing from sin-effect.)

But _this_ is the “crisising” (to translate the word we usually call ‘condemnation’ more literally): that men will not come to the light, Who enlightens _every_ man, but instead such men try to remain in the dark; because their deeds are evil, and they can see that the light intends to clean them of their sin, and so choosing to love their sins, they thus seek the darkness rather than loving and reaching toward the light Who _first_ is loving and reaching toward them.

But the one eternal omnipresent consuming fire--He Who consumes and sends away sin--cannot be escaped from. Those who continue loving and practicing their sin are salted with fire: just like _everyone_ is (or so says Christ by Mark’s report), and with the same hope, that they will turn to the river running out from under the mercy seat in Jerusalem and through the doors that _never_ are closed, and drink and be washed clean, so that they may enter the city with their riches, and eat the leaves of the tree of life and be healed.

That scriptural imagery _may_ be poetic rather than literal. (I suppose we’ll see someday. {g}) But the concept ought to be clear enough. That which a man builds on Christ--Who _is_ the foundation of _everything_; there is no other more fundamental foundation than the action of God, even for God’s own existence--that work of the man may be destroyed, if it is not worth continuing to exist (by God’s grace in all cases!) But the man will thereby be saved. He must let go of that which needs destruction, though; and he will be burned, by God’s grace, along with that which needs destruction, until he lets go: giving up the final farthing (as the end of some of Christ’s parables are commonly Englished).

Incidentally, sin is _not_ in its ‘natural place’ in man. Otherwise man would have been sinful from the first creation, and God would not be concerned with sending it away out of us. Thomas Brooks’ analogy isn’t well-put; poison in a serpent doesn’t poison the serpent in the least. On the other hand, to say that wickedness is in a _wicked_ man, is nothing more than a bare tautology.

Now, I do not deny that God sets sinners in places where they will fall to ruin--and _very_ well for the sinner (as well as for those oppressed by the sinner) that He should! Nor do I deny that God sends evil and lying spirits to the wicked--which after all might be to everyone, yes? (For all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God, etc.) If it comes to that, God did not prevent Satan from coming to unfallen man, either.

What I deny is that God intends evil _to_ any of these people when this happens. Therefore, He intends to bring good out of _their_ evil; and that has to include final good sooner or later to those people themselves--the sinners sent and the sinners receiving. Otherwise God would be a worker of iniquity either by directly sending such things, or by a sin of omission (neglecting to prevent such things from coming.)

I have discussed _this_ at length, too, already; though you have treated me as though I said nothing about it. (No continuation of discussion there, either...)

So then, to take one of your own examples, from the tail end of Rom 9: the Gentiles, who were not even pursuing righteousness (that is, fair-togetherness), attained fair-togetherness, even the fair-togetherness that is out of faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of fair-togetherness did not even arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it as out of faith, but as though out of works. In doing so they stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written (and here comes the only part you referenced, where St. Paul is targuming something spoken originally through Isaiah), “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, yet he who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

The stumbling stone here is Christ, the cornerstone being laid in Isaiah’s prophecy.

Yet Paul still expects these who are stumbling to be saved!--certainly not through their own works, even though they are attempting to establish their own righteousness and even though Moses agrees that the man who practices the righteousness which is out of the law shall be living by it. Why does Paul then have a heart’s desire and a prayer and an expectation that even these who have been shut up into stubbornness shall be shown mercy?

Because _unlike_ them (though he used to be their way himself), his fair-togetherness is out of faith; and so he knows that one does not go up either into heaven to bring Christ down nor into the swirling depths to bring Christ up from the dead, but that the Logos--which is the action of God, Incarnated as Christ--Himself goes to _them_, which is to everyone who is stumbling over the cornerstone. (Duh--they couldn’t be stumbling over Christ if He wasn’t going to them in the first place! {g}) _That_ is the faithful Logos, Whom Paul and the apostles are proclaiming.

How then shall they call upon Him in Whom they have not believed? Well, they must hear of Him first. How shall they hear of Him then without a preacher? But Paul says they _have_ a preacher: Christ Himself goes to _them_, both from heaven and from the abyss.

This is somewhat obscured in Rom 10:15, because we do not now usually retain the memory of what the rabbis were teaching about those feet who bring glad tidings of good things: those feet belong first and primarily _to the Messiah_; then also to us, as servants with the Messiah.

It is also somewhat obscured because in v 8 Paul uses the title of Logos rather than Christ; and so people who aren’t aptly (or at all?) following Paul’s discussion in topical progression and who expect only John in his Gospel to be speaking of Jesus as the Logos (why?!--was Luke, for example, the companion of Paul, supposed to be talking of eyewitnesses and servants of _the Bible_?!) figure that after talking about how we shouldn’t be expecting to go somewhere to find and bring _Christ_ Paul is then saying that the _scriptures_, or maybe some doctrinal preaching, are with us instead.

(Not surprisingly then, they go on to figure that Paul, who has inveighed against salvation by works up to this point, must really mean that we are saved by a _little_ work: the little work of confessing Jesus as Lord with our mouth and believing in our heart He rose from the dead. And then liberal revisionists start to talk about how Paul was a gnostic heretic... {sigh})

So then: this stumbling block God is sending in Romans 9:33 is God Himself, the Logos, Incarnated as Christ. The people doing the stumbling may be stumbling over Him (and if we reply ‘woe to those through whom the stumbling blocks come’, how well has Christ fulfilled even _that_ in Himself on the cross!), but Christ is going to them in order to save them--this is Christ’s intention (thus also the intention of the Father and the Spirit), and why Paul can pray for their salvation rather than just writing them off as being obviously cursed by a God Who has no intention of saving them.

This ought to clearly show what the intention of God is in sending stumbling blocks, even when the stumbling blocks are _not_ Himself. True, a majority will be stumbling, whereas a remnant will be saved _from the stumbling_ (taking the whole sermon in context); but Paul has hope for the stumblers, too: for it is _God_ Who is doing the things over which sinners are stumbling. (How is _my_ heart to be made contrite, and how am I supposed to sorrow and repent, _unless_ I stumble in my sin? This stumbling is a _grace_ of God to the sinner. The Old Testament, not even counting the NT, routinely involves this principle.)

Consequently, if God _did_ send a strong delusion to Absalom, that he should believe lies (as God will admittedly do to the ones who follow the antichrist, per 2 Thess)--which neither the prophecy from 2 Sam 12 nor the subsequent story down to Absalom’s death indicates, btw--it was so that Absalom would stumble _in his sin_ and so be undone; and/or so that a visual confirmation could be given to David that this was being done to punish David: the right result of which was that David sought reconciliation with his enemies (even in victory), going back even to a tribe attacked by Saul on God’s command! (Obviously not quite wiped out, btw.)

But was God’s attitude toward Absalom in this, _less_ concerned with Absalom than the attitude of David the sinner?? I think not; I do not believe this even _could_ be true. For when you say that Absalom’s responsibility for his actions grieved David, and perhaps even more as David saw the prophecy of Nathan being fulfilled, you are yet leaving the most important element of David’s grief out of the account: _”would that I had died instead of you!”_

But God Himself _does_ die, that sinners may share His death and also His life.

(Normally I would emphasize myself as the sinner, but I do not want to make it seem as though I have some advantage excluded from others in this. ‘Of course God died for _me_--I am one of God’s elect! And you over there aren’t! Oh well, too bad for you...’ No, I have no advantage over any other sinner ultimately; all are shut up into stubborness, that God may show mercy _to all_.)

You add, that it was God who sent Joseph to Egypt (Genesis 45:7).

True; so that Joseph’s brothers might be saved! Also, Joseph (though I suppose he might be wrong in his evaluation) holds no grudge against his brothers, and is very insistent that they _NOT BLAME THEMSELVES!_ (“Now, do not be grieved or angry in your own eyes because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. [...] Now, therefore, it was _not_ you who sent me here, but God.” 45:5, 8a)

You add again, that it was the hand of the Lord that brought about Job’s trials (Job 12:9).

So Job believes at that time (not having been privy to the prologue in heaven); and so God in essence takes responsibility for later. But you ought to know very well that the hand of this trial was done by Satan; and also that Satan incited God against Job to ruin Job without a cause. That’s part of the story, too. As is the immediate reason God gave Satan permission to do this to Job and to Job’s family.

Sadly this immediate reason is routinely ignored by virtually all commentators... But that may be due to faulty translations. (Hopefully not due to an insistence on uncharity to an enemy of God!--for we have been warned very explicitly how _we_ shall be judged concerning _our_ transgressions, if we do not forgive in our hearts the transgressions of others.)

In the Hebrew, YHWH asks the adversary if he has set his heart to Job--this is before Satan attempts to incite God to destroy Job without cause, and God is pretty clearly exhibiting Job as an example. For what? _For Satan to follow._

Job and his family are suffering so that Satan might see Job’s faithfulness in this and repent. The innocent (even the relatively innocent, such as Job) are suffering for the sake of God’s love for the _guilty_.

Job is correct despite the insistences of his friends: he isn’t being punished because he did something wrong. Neither does God explain to Job when He arrives to challenge Job at the climax. (Though God _does_ hint at it in the taming of the Leviathan and Bahamut, rebel cosmic creatures in Mesopotamian mythology, perhaps borrowing imagery from animals now extinct. Nor is this theme entirely absent from the intervening discourse, either.)

But it’s okay; Job is reassured that God _does_ hear him, and trusts God even though God doesn’t explain His purposes. Whereas, we have the advantage Job did _not_ have: we have been told the prologue! The challenge then is, are we going to believe that this was done for Satan’s sake, the taming of the rebellious dragon--or not?

It is Job’s friends, who have not spoken rightly of God as Job did, whom God is wrathful toward--not toward Job. In doing so, they sinned both against God and against Job; in the reconciliation, then, God brings them _all_ together--and God restores the fortunes of Job because Job lets go of his own resentment against his friends and prays for their sake.

What of Satan? The great adversary certainly isn’t listed among those who repented, and besides we know from further story details (to say the least! {g}) that he hadn’t yet repented, and still won’t for the eons of the eons. But, the prologue and the epilogue stand together thematically. God was inviting Satan to learn and to set his heart toward something as an example in the prologue; in the epilogue God does the same for the three human sinners. In _both_ cases, Job is the example, speaking even in his pain as a figure (imperfect though he certainly is as such) of the Christ to come; and what happens to Job (and to his family) happens for the sake of the enemies of God. God accepts the penitence of Job’s three friends--who instead of comforting and strengthing Job acted as subtle adversaries against him. And unless God does things for hopeless reasons, then we can have the same hope as God in regard to Satan--the same hope God has toward the three little adversaries His wrath was kindled against.

That hope of God, the _way_ of God, is fair-togetherness--and its fulfillment, which is positive justice.

Moving along (and finishing/summing up),

Certainly, I would agree that the crucifixion of God Incarnate was predestined by God.

Not only _would_ I agree with that, I specifically _did_ agree with that, back when I was discussing Romans in a previous comment. If it comes to this, I can put it rather more strongly than you’re doing it here: the Lamb is slain not only ‘from’ the foundation of the world, but gives His life even _as_ the foundation of the world! Also, when discussing the verses you mention here, I would be certain to emphasize that it wasn’t one God doing this in regard to another God (as your language regarding God and His Son would tend to imply), but one God in distinct Persons. It is the will of the Father for the Son to be slain; and it is the will of God for _Himself_ to be slain. The Father and Son and Spirit together are God (not additively, true, but substantially).

This is why I made sure to point out that whatever hand God did have in Absalom’s rebellion against David, the same God Himself willingly laid down His own life later to be slain by His enemies (including the ones who had claimed to be His staunchest allies) in a fashion typologically similar to Absalom’s death. God voluntarily becomes a Son of David centuries later, in order to share in the death of a more immediate son of David. Does He do this in _less_ love (not to say hope) than David, who even though he was a sinner cried of his rebel son, “would that I have died instead of thee!”?

I think the Son of David is not _less_ loving than His father David who calls Him Lord and declares, “One thing God has spoken; two things I have heard: That power belongs to God, and lovingkindness is Thine O Lord--for You render unto every man according to his work.” (Ps 62:11-12)

God’s power and lovingkindness are the same thing; there is no division between them. That, or trinitarian theism isn’t true.

I say, ‘go orthodoxy!’ {g!}

Best regards, and give care,

Jason Pratt

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