I am not a very philosophically-minded person. Studying English literature was a perfect fit because I feel I need textual evidence to lead and guide whatever ideas I may have. For almost all of my Christian walk, a certain text that has acted as the rudder to my ship has been, quite obviously, the Bible.
Yes, I disregard inerrancy as an essential lens through which to view Scripture, but I have not cast out Scripture altogether. I’ve always returned to the text for discussions about the text. Today, when I sat down for my bi-monthly Bible study with my pastor, I did not expect the indirect challenge I received.
For the past 2,000 years or so, there has been an on-going debate about whether or not God has absolute sovereignty or if free will reigns. I don’t know why, but I have never really seen the point of such a debate because no matter what I don’t ever see myself coming down conclusively on one side of the issue. So therefore, I usually never think through the issue because I believe it has no conclusion. It has nothing concrete to land on. But it was this very subject that came up in our discussion of Acts 12.
About in the middle of the chapter, Peter is freed from the prison guards. In verse 19, we see Herod punish the guards with a death sentence and, as one might be able to tell, it begged the question of why an all-knowing God would allow these prisoners to die (in fact, cause them to die!) so that Peter might escape? If God is truly all-knowing and all-powerful – as is assumed with the role of being completely sovereign – then surely there could have been another way and these prison guards didn’t have to die, did they?
An alternative outlook to passages such as this is to say that perhaps God, being all-powerful, forsook His omniscience and was therefore subject to making choices out of free will. What this says about this particular passage is that God gambled a little; He rescued Peter from the guards knowing their lives were at stake. But how could He have done so if He is truly an all-loving God? God being a gambler means He knowingly put these prison guards to death so that Peter could live on.
I have always believed there is a way where both free will and omniscience are present at the same time. I think of it kind of like the “already-not-yet” tension within the New Testament; God’s Kingdom is already here, but not yet completely here. There’s a difference between “contradiction” and “paradox”; one means two things are diametrically opposed while the other means two things merely appear to be opposed.
From our perspective as humans contemplating on the nature of the divine, I find there is a very large gap into understanding God’s full nature completely. I agree with my pastor that we should never stop trying to understand the way God works, but I find there is only so far one can go in this world – and Paul would agree:
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known,” – 1 Corinthians 13:12.
Philosophical questions give me headaches mostly because I cannot find much of an answer on my own. I need textual support. Drifting from certain lenses in how to interpret the Bible is one thing; drifting from the Bible altogether is entirely another. As I said to my pastor, it undermines Scripture’s authority; it suggests that it matters very little in the “real” things of life. He then suggested to me that I was being intellectually hypocritical.
I was attempting to differentiate denying inerrancy and denying Scripture; they are not the same thing to me. He pointed out that to many Christians it would be the same thing – that, in the act of denying inerrancy, you’re denying Scripture altogether, and, therefore, probably denying God! But now that I think about it, I’m wondering if I might have been a little hypocritical because I was being challenged to step outside my literary-fixed mind.
Essentially, this challenge boils down to Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” When I step away from Scripture to consider a question about God’s nature, I have a sudden feeling that I’m in danger of trusting my own opinion more than God’s Word (and by “Word” here, I’m referring to the Word which resides in our hearts and minds and is matched by proclamations and declarations in Scripture – that inner impression of God’s presence upon our hearts and souls that gets fed from when we read and study Scripture).
But what if it was the other way around? What if I was trusting in my own understanding in the act of sticking to the text of Scripture? What if God is waving me off the beaten path once more and I’m digging my heels in where I stand? And yet all the while I cannot help but notice that in considering where God is leading me, I’m using a passage from Scripture (Proverbs 3:5)!
Hopefully you see my dilemma. What do philosophical questions do for you? Questions like, “Can God create a rock He cannot lift?” or “Can God create a box He can’t look into?” Like nails scratching a chalk board, my soul cringes at the thought and compels me to say, “Who cares? God is God and you are but a man!” But some might say this is ignorance. And now I turn to my fellow bloggers: What do you think?
And please, help. These headaches do not go away very easily…