Knowing in Part: Seeing Through the Glass Darkly

 
 
Many Christians avoid discussing or even thinking about theological questions, mainly because they believe the issues cannot always be sufficiently resolved, at least using the mental tools we have.  
For example, how can a God who is the very definition of love make this statement about Rebekah’s unborn twins?
There was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:10-13)
How can we quote from John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” yet also believe that God has predestined some for eternal life, while others will have no chance of obtaining salvation and will spend eternity in everlasting torment?
 
These and similar perplexities  have been the cause of division and strife throughout the history of the Church.
 
While the writings of the Apostles, particularly the Apostle Paul, attempt to clarify for the early believers the theological issues concerning salvation and the fulfillment of God’s covenant with the Church, the New Israel, for example, questions continue to this day over such seeming conflicts between free will and predestination or the “security of the believer” as opposed to the possible loss of salvation.
 
Very recently, for example, Andrew Wilson in the Christianity Today Weekly Newsletter wrote the following:

The paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is not meant to be resolved but rather retained. Scripture indicates that both God and we work in our salvation. (Wilson)

Even this attempt to clarify one of the issues is enigmatic, however, mainly because of the word “paradox” Wilson uses.  If theological issues are paradoxes, how can we determine what to believe?

Logical Fallacies

Helping students improve their writing skills in my Freshman Composition classes included not just studying grammar and style, but also such topics as “logical fallacies.” 

First, however, I had to demonstrate to the students that using logical fallacies in their writing was highly ineffective in convincing their readers (i.e. Dr. Jenkins) that their arguments were solidly reasoned and effectively argued.

For example, to justify their essay’s argument, they might find some esteemed “authority” that they chose to agree with, perhaps a professor or a celebrity, then argue that since “So-and-so” says so in his “tweet,” it must be true!”  Since so many people have become accustomed to hearing and using these fallacies in their daily lives, therefore, convincing students of their inadequacy was especially difficult.  

Post Hoc Fallacy

One of the most confusing of the many logical fallacies, for example, is the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which literally translated means, “after this, therefore because of this.”  In other words, since one event precedes another event, the first event must be the cause of the second.

Here is a typical post hoc fallacy statement:

The number of vaccines given children today parallels the number of children who are being diagnosed with autism. Therefore, vaccines need to be banned because they cause autism.

Vaccines may indeed cause autism, but this simplistic statement needs more convincing proof than the mere coincidental relationship between the two statistics. In this case, the idea that the statement is “perfectly reasonable” is unreasonable.

What Is a Paradox?

A paradox is not “two doxes”!

Paradoxical statements or arguments may likewise cause logical problems in academic or journalistic writing.  A paradox exists when two statements seem equally true, yet they cannot both be true.  Here’s an example of a common paradox found in many television commercials:

Just telephone us right now!  By investing in this product, you will save hundreds of dollars! But this offer won’t last long, so call now!

Just “spend money to save money” might seem to make no sense, but how many times have we fallen for the entrapment entailed in these appeals?

Such is the issue with the theological questions concerning God’s omniscience and the innate human ability to make free choices as a result of personal “free will.”

If we have been chosen and predestined, for example, do we have eternal security and therefore cannot lose our salvation no matter what we do or how we sin? Here is what one author wrote on this issue:

All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. (Qtd. on Horn)

Therefore, anyone who does not endure to the end was never truly “saved” in the first place, or so the argument goes.

On the other hand, was the writer of the Book of Hebrews mistaken when he wrote the following:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

This issue has resulted in schisms and separations within the Church, resulting in whole denominations devoted to one side or the other in the debate.  

Here is the paradox:  If God’s omniscience reveals what we will ultimately do, then our choices have essentially already been determined.  If we indeed have unlimited free will, however, then our directions may change at any time and God does not have ultimate, omniscient sovereignty.

In addition, so many theologians and Bible teachers are guilty of the “hasty generalization” fallacy in their doctrines, assuming that from their own limited perspectives they know all they need to know, not acknowledging that only God is omniscient and knows all things.

The problems persist once these complex doctrines are expounded upon from ancient texts, or the spoken words of esteemed preachers are transcribed .  So many people decide that they agree with one particular author or teacher and become “followers” of a particular teaching.  They then strongly oppose anyone who might disagree, to the point that other obvious truths are ignored. Those who disagree are ostracized, shunned, or attacked, while those who agree smugly or proudly pose as the true experts who have been enlightened fully.

Ultimately, new denominations or sects are formed or new leaders ascend to the head of the table, leading to further confusion in the Body of Christ.

Mysteries

Instead, we need to recognize that we are neither omniscient nor omnipresent. And since we are neither timeless nor infinite, facts and conditions that are outside our knowledge or understanding invariably exist.  Thus, we cannot make definitive conclusions, or we will be guilty of the “hasty generalization” fallacy, making an inductive decision of what is true based on insufficient evidence.  

Instead, we need to do the best we can with what we have received, while remaining open to other possibilities that God may reveal to us.

Below is a diagram that demonstrates a possible explanation of the “paradox dilemma,” based on what the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13:12

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

Untitled drawing

The two points of the triangle at the bottom represent “truths” that we may believe to be true from our limited perspectives, yet they appear to contradict one another.  Thus, they are paradoxical.

How can they both be true?  

Yet they both lead upward to a place beyond our cognizance, above to the unseen world of the spirit.  If we could see beyond the gap between the flesh and the spirit, we could easily see how both contradictory truths ultimately meet.

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

This means that what we perceive as logically sound may not be logical based on what is ultimately true from God’s omniscient, omnipresent perspectives.  

Go Into All the World

Ultimately, arguing about whether a person is one of the “elect,” or whether I am predestined to be saved or not, or whether she is one whom God has called are questions that are contrary to the Great Commission Jesus gave to all of His disciples.  

He sent us out into the entire world to preach His Good News, that whoever desires His mercy may be saved.  We shouldn’t even consider the idea that we are wasting our time preaching to certain people because they might not predestined to be saved from sin anyway.  

We need to operate in faith, trusting that Jesus will send us to those who will receive the Word and desire to follow Him. Jesus said:

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Since all authority has been given to Christ Jesus, ours is not to question who or who will not receive His salvation, a salvation that is freely given to “all the nations,” a description that pretty much includes everyone!

 

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