Posts Tagged ‘free will’

Jeremiah 32: You Asked For This

At the beginning of Jeremiah 32, our prophet is locked in prison because he keeps telling besieged Jerusalem that they’re gonna lose. King Zedekiah is not a fan. Jeremiah’s response while locked up? He keeps saying things which would be quite troubling to the people in Jerusalem.

Jeremiah 32.26-35

26 Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, 27 “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”28 Therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am about to give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will take it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city will enter and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses where people have offered incense to Baal on their roofs and poured out drink offerings to other gods to provoke Me to anger. 30 Indeed the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah have been doing only evil in My sight from their youth; for the sons of Israel have been only provoking Me to anger by the work of their hands,” declares the Lord. 31 “Indeed this city has been to Me a provocation of My anger and My wrath from the day that they built it, even to this day, so that it should be removed from before My face, 32 because of all the evil of the sons of Israel and the sons of Judah which they have done to provoke Me to anger—they, their kings, their leaders, their priests, their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. 34 But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.35 They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

At the beginning of this passage, God says he is about to give Jerusalem into the hands of those attacking it. This is one of the main ways the Scriptures explain God’s punishment of people. He allows the choices of kings and armies to take effect and the result is the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people. God performs these judgments by allowing the natural results of human action to take effect in full force. He works with exercise of free will to accomplish his purposes, even when He purposes to express His wrath.

The text makes it clear why YHWH was angry and frustrated with His people. They were brazenly worshipping other gods. They worshipped these gods on their homes, they built altars and places of worship, and they sacrificed to other gods. They even sacrificed their own children to these other gods! Despite warning after warning from YHWH, they continued in these practices. They were not interested in being His people, they wanted to be the people of all the gods. YHWH doesn’t work this way. He wants people to follow Him alone or follow other gods. Not both.

In a sense, God’s withdrawal, which allowed the Chaldeans and Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon to capture Jerusalem, was exactly what the Jews wanted. God warned them what the worship of these foreign gods would lead to, and they continued in their idolatry. They wanted to worship Baal. They wanted him to have power. And guess whose god Baal is? Baal is the god of Babylon.

They wanted these gods to have power, now they do! Congratulations people, you did it. In a narrative sense, YHWH is allowing these gods to exert their power, through Babylon, upon the nation of Israel. Israel is getting exactly what they asked for in a different way than they desired. Their city is now being destroyed by the gods they worshiped and many of them will be shipped to lands where these gods are even more honored. The idols of Israel will become their rulers and ruin their lives.


I Might Be Insane: People Can Choose

March 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I have this thing that I believe about people that almost everyone agrees with. The weird thing is, when we actually start talking in depth, we come to this place where it seems we agree in principle but disagree when it comes to specific situations. I believe people have the capacity to make decisions about their actions. I believe people even have the ability to make really difficult choices. At this point, I’m assuming most of you are with me. I hope by the end of this some of you will disagree with me so I can gain a better understanding of why what I’m saying is disagreeable to others.

I think the ability of humans to choose was a deliberate design decision. God was particularly concerned with creating humans with options, the ability to choose different options, and more than that, the ability to examine decisions before making them. First man’s world was so simple, but God was sure to set it up with one complexity, an option with pros and cons depending on what was chosen. Eat and be filled with the knowledge of good and evil, satisfy curiousity, and die? Or refuse to eat and live, without knowing intimately the knowledge the fruit would provide? Choosing is central to being human, and, I suspect, a part of what it means to bear the image of God.

I was recently reminded of a conversation I had with a friend many years ago. He asked, “Why do you think that person is overweight?” I responded simply with an answer I still believe is quite true, “They consume more calories than they burn.” My friend went on to talk about how he thought this person’s past affected their self-perception and so they ate to blame their self-perception on their weight instead of their past. I’ve never been all that convinced one’s personal past is the problem. The problem with this way of thinking is it pushes back the problem to something that really isn’t the cause. The problem is not what occurred to someone in that past, their experiences never forced them to consume more calories, their daily decisions resulted in their weight gain. I believe that whatever someone’s past, they still have the capacity to make their own choices about their life. That’s one issue regarding choice I sometimes find myself in disagreement with others on.

Addiction is another issue regarding choice me and others don’t always see eye-to-eye on. I don’t know what the medical definition of addiction is. My functional definition of addiction is being addicted means it’s really hard for someone to stop engaging in a behavior. Sometimes we throw the label “addict” on someone and give them a free pass on their behavior as if they can’t stop. We also undermine their power over their own decisions. And it’s kind of silly when we act like an addict is unable to stop.

Let’s use a common example: Alcoholism. Alcoholics have a very difficult time quitting, but they are perfectly capable of doing so. After an alcoholic quits, starting up again is not some inevitability because they are addicted. It’s a series of choices: choosing to get the keys to the car, choosing to leave the house, enter the car, drive to a place with alcohol, grab some alcohol, pull out one’s wallet and purchase the alcohol, choosing to drive somewhere to drink the alcohol, opening the alcohol, drinking it, and then choosing to continue to drink it to excess. These behaviors don’t happen because someone is addicted, they happen because someone makes decisions they have control over. An alcoholic does not get drunk because they are an alcoholic, they get drunk because they choose to get drunk.

This way of thinking about choice is like a lot of things in the kingdom, beautiful and difficult. It’s difficult because every individual, including you and I, become completely responsible for our own actions and their effects. The problem with us is not that we can’t stop drinking, manipulating others, smoking, overreacting, eating, watching tv, looking at porn, etc, etc, the problem is we choose not to stop. We have no excuses. It’s a beautiful way of thinking about choice because in His love, YHWH has given us the power to make choices over our lives. We have power to break the negative cycles of behavior we are in. We have hope, which is far better than any excuse.

For the follower of Jesus, changing one’s behavior so that it honors YHWH is good start, but it’s not the end goal. The end goal is loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The goal is to have all of ourselves in full obedience to YHWH, wanting what Jesus wants, feeling like Jesus feels, thinking how Jesus thinks, and doing what Jesus does. The ultimate goal is complete transformation so right behavior is a natural outpouring of our new self. However, even when right behavior seems to come unnaturally, it is still worth choosing obedience to our King.

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