I've promised Jared that I would respond to his post on Sheol & Paradise since I have a series from my blog where I took on the issue, but I just haven't had time to collect my thoughts. You can start here for the 5 parts on Christ's non-descent into hell and here for my thoughts on 'Paradise' if you are dying to know my opinion (I know you are all on the edge of your seat), but I will come back to it in a condensed version for this blog.
The other week I violated one of my cardinal facebook rules and got into a theological discussion on FB--it's against my rule because most time the debates are not productive and degenerate into people talk past each other. However, since I broke my rule--and that might be the reason for my sarcasm in the first post, FB brings out the snark--I thought I'd post it here. I sincerely hope that this is actually helpful to people.
Sorry for the length ahead of time, but you'll want to be reading Isaiah 40-48 to see if what I say is true and, as they say, you might want to "pack a lunch." ;)
Isaiah 40-48 and God's Sovereignty Revealed
Here is a strong caution, respectfully, we need to be careful how we think about the sovereignty of God and human will. I would submit to you that one of the places to carefully start is in Isaiah 40-48.
Isaiah 40-48 is just so crucial for our understanding of theology. Very rarely do we do good systematic theology arising from a robust Biblical theology and exegesis. If we are patient with the unfolding of redemptive history and examine how God reveals Himself, we will see the attributes of God--most of all his majesty, glory and absolute sovereignty.
It was a mark of idols that they did not know the future, that they could not predict it and that their knowledge of human agency was limited. Even more, over and against idols and their lack of power was God’s power and agency to determine His plan, set it out, and carry it through even with and through the use of human agency--it was God’s power and agenda that His purpose will stand and be accomplished. He does not merely know the end from the beginning--in some sort of bare foreknowledge--rather He determines and establishes the end from the beginning so that even with and through human responsibility God is the ultimate active agent who is determinative of all things.
Let’s walk through some of the key passages in Isaiah (and I will leave it another time to defend that this Biblical doctrine is supported by the whole of Scripture).
40:9-17 --God’s sovereign arm brings both mercy and judgment. Other nations are of no account before Him.
40:18-23 --God is not like the idols. How? He sits enthroned above all creatures. Inhabitants of the earth are like grasshoppers. In his sovereignty he brings down princes and makes rulers empty.
The point being that God cannot be compared to creatures (40:18,25). He is wholly unlike idols in that he sovereignly establishes things and when he acts no one and nothing can thwart him.
The very fact that God is Creator (40:28) is the reason that no way or path is hidden from God (40:27). There is not any right of the creature to stand against God or claim ability to thwart him any of his plans.
41:4- God calls out the generations from the beginning. Just think about all the human ‘free acts’ and agency that goes into the creation of children and the apparent randomness that comes together for the creation of one life. God has ordained the generations--millions upon millions of people along with the wheres and whens of their being raised up. He has done all this from the beginning. It is sovereignty beyond measure.
41:8-10 God has raised up Israel; 41:11 all human agency that stands against those God has called is thwarted and cast down. Why? Because of the free agency of God which thwarts people 41:13-- God’s agency is superior to man’s because God’s being is far above and exalted over all His creation. Consider what the hand of the Lord does (41:17-20).
41:21-24. What are the works of idols? Let them present their case. They cannot tell the former things. The whole mark of an idol is that it does not know the end from the beginning and it cannot declare to us things that are yet to come (41:22-23). A person who chooses this god is an abomination 41:24.
41:25-29 God acted to bring Israel out of Babylon and declared this end long before it happened. He did not seek advice or counsel in this matter. He did not have to consult anyone (some of the Babylonian gods often had to consult the pantheon before acting). So God’s will and rule is not tempered by the will and counsel of other beings.
43:1-7 the Lord will sovereignly call Israel out of the nations and bring them back. He will command the nations and they will give up God’s people that they have in captivity. This redemption is not possible if God’s sovereignty is not majestic over the ‘free agency’ of humankind. He commands nations to “give up” his people and they do just that. The point is no one can deliver from God’s hand 43:13.
44:6-8 God declare what is to come and it happens. God declares what will be and it will be. How do you know? God told us several hundred years before the return from captivity that he would do this. This is not ‘bare’ prediction, rather Isaiah shows us this is God establishing His ways. He alone is sovereign. There are no other gods or beings who can act in this way.
45:1-7 The Lord establishes Cyrus and 'whose right hand he has grasped' and Cyrus is the agent by which God’s people are let out of Babylon. But notice the focus is on God’s actions through the hand of Cyrus. God sovereignty establish and govern over Cyrus’ actions is precisely how God’s people would know that he alone is God (45:4-5). God is the one who creates well-being and calamity. His sovereignty over these things takes precedence although he delights in using secondary causes including man’s will.
45:11-12 Because God is God he can be asked about the future. The basis for his being able to answer is his creational sovereignty. He created man and commands all of the starry hosts. The question to the creature is “will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?” and the answer is obviously no in the context.
45:20-21 Again the court case against idols is that they cannot testify to what the future is. They do not declare things from long ago. The fact that we know there is no god besides the Lord is that he has alone declared the end from the beginning.
46:8-13 God declares the end from the beginning (46:10). The idea is that God puts out, speaks forth the end from the beginning. The focus is on the declarative power of God not merely to announce ahead of time something coming but to declare before hand what will be so that it will be because it is precisely his purpose. So God has a counsel, a divine plan that will stand. God will accomplish all His purpose. So he raises up Cyrus. And guess what: he spoke that this would happened and it will pass. No free agency of man can stop God’s plan and purpose from coming to pass.
48:1-5. God spoke about the former things before they happened and then he caused them to come to pass (v3). This is not mere predictive power of future events but he says this will happen and then according to His sovereign will he causes them to happen. He does this because his people are obstinate and do not believe his power and ability. God declared them before he did them so that people would not think an idol did this.
Again, idols never have this kind of sovereignty and when we turn God into a god lacking sovereignty over all things we run the danger of turning him into an idol.
48:12-15 God in his sovereignty established all creation. His power at creation is connected to his sovereign ruling continuing power over all human events. So he spread out the heavens but also no other god or being has declared things to be and then caused them to happen as the LORD did (v14). God establishes and prove his absolute Deity and Godhood by the exercise of continue sovereignty over all creation and the course of all human events. So with his people, against the Babylonians, he speaks, calls, brings him and causes him to prosper.
48:17-22. God’s sovereignty is the basis for redemption and the basis for God’s people to come with bended knee. We are to yield to him precisely because we have see his mighty hand so perfectly displayed.
Respectfully, this is all basic to the Bible. We don't need to resort to philosophy to figure this stuff out. We need to patiently read our Bibles and submit to what it says. It says God is sovereign and even controls the free acts of men so that even people rebelling against God and meaning things for evil is a product of God’s sovereign intention and ultimate design of his purpose (Gen. 50:20; Isaiah 10:5-19).
Look, we need to be convinced that Scripture actually says what it means and means what says. God as a sovereignty over all things that make Him wholly unlike us in His being. His sovereignty and will is far above ours just as the heavens is higher than the earth. Don't bring him down to our level and put him on our level of agency and activity. Don't de-god our LORD and God.