Taking a moment to look back and review what you have just completed is an important part of the learning experience, especially when you ask yourself some basic questions such as:
1. What things stick in my mind about this section?
2. Why are those things important to me?
3. How will dealing with those things change my life?
Teachers often have their own agenda. They have important points they want you to get out of the information they have just presented to you. While that is a valid and necessary approach to learning, creating a foundation on which to build the next story of your understanding, I have found through experience that when you study God, no teacher can direct what happens to, is important to, or the changes to those who enter this journey. It is one thing to study God, say in a class on theology, and it is another thing to desire with all your heart to know God.
So, while I may point out some of the high points of this section, I believe those three questions previously stated are the most significant elements of your interaction with what you have just completed. Having read thus far in Packer’s book you have been systematically exposed to important and foundational material. However, God deals with each of us individually and because of that, what he is dealing with you out of Section Two is unique to your relationship with him. So, do not worry too much about getting it all worked out. Deal with what God is doing in you at the moment and the rest will follow in due course.
A little housekeeping. If you are new to this study, you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at william.meisheid.com.
There is a big discussion going on within Evangelical Christianity over open theism (see this posting at Challes.com). I absolutely disagree with this theology, but I don’t want to argue over it here and now. What I do want to say is that the problem this section of Packer’s book addresses is whether or not we are satisfied with seeing God as he is, what Scripture and his witness in creation tell us about him, or do we want to remake God in an image that is more pleasing to how we think he ought to be. The previous four chapters dealt with some of this problem head on by tackling certain attributes of God that most Christians find difficult to face. I think the underlying premise of the open theism argument is a dissatisfaction for our understanding of God as presented and understood. That leads to them casting about for a way to see God differently, to find a way to speak reasonably to contemporary understandings in science and philosophy.
From where I sit the arguments in this section of the book face that issue head on and Packer does it by letting God be God. In doing that he allows God to be the one to define himself to us by his revelation in both Word and Creation, in deed and in flesh (Christ Jesus). While that may not answer all the seemingly urgent questions of the moment and while it may be comfortable to some to postulate a God who has limits, especially as related to the future and his ability to control the course of those events (we should note that this frees them to be meaningful agents of change, personally powerful), it does not match the God of Scripture and creation, at least not from my perspective. I will forever be down with Yul Brenner’s statement in the Ten Commandments, when as Ramses he tells his wife, “Moses’ God is God.”
It may be fashionable to feel that due to our current pace of scientific inquiry and its expansion of the human knowledgebase that we are able to place demands on our understanding of God, indeed if we acknowledge him at all, allowing a redefinition of our past views. Indeed, some want to say that God is no longer absolute but instead relative and to a degree limited. However, we need to deal with the fact that Scripture does not support this view. We need to deal with Paul’s argument: “Let God be true, and every man a liar.” (Romans 3:4)
Rather than be like the Pharisees seeking some reasonable and logical way to get our views of God to fit into how we want things to be, we need to be ahead of the game and be now like Paul says everyone will be, and instead bow our knee in submission to God. In a way, this is all a repeat of the discussion that Job had with God. Why, how, what for? I want to know. I need to know. In the end God said no. You need to trust me and take what I say as what I say.
There is a both a great opportunity and great danger in theology. The opportunity is to learn more about the God we worship. The danger is to think we can know enough to define God ourselves and in doing that discover something new under the sun about him. The modern educational and doctrinal system requires novelty to support itself. New ideas, new theories, new postulations. In science this is seen as good, as these explorations push our circle of knowledge making it ever larger. However in theology and especially Christian biblical theology, what we know about God is limited. While the application of that limited knowledge is endless, the revealed knowledge itself is finite. After 2000 years of Christian theology we bump up against those limits constantly. When that happens we have a choice, the same choice offered to Job and his counselors: to trust God and accept that our knowledge is limited or to speculate and try and push our knowledge of God, trying to drive back the mist by the force of our reason and our accumulated knowledgebase in all areas of human understanding. In the end I think we all have to deal with the first question, the first temptation, “You can know…”
God, from the beginning set limits on our knowledge. From the beginning we have rebelled against those limits. Job came up against those limits and responded by accepting them. They are there for a reason and God has told us to trust him. Today, we face the same choices. Some have responded with chucking the whole framework and redefining everything (witness the modern Episcopal Church and its apostles of modernity). Others respond by redefining God, in my mind committing the sin of Job’s counselors.
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Job 42:7-8
So, the ultimate folly is wanting God to be other than he is, of wanting our understanding, our will, our desire to be what defines him. No. In the end we need to echo Job.
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:1-6
May God give you the grace to see in faith with the eyes of Job and thereby avoid the errors of his counselors. May we always be willing to accept God as he is and be willing to submit to whatever he has for us. For in the end, will he not have the final Word? He is, afterall, God.