Friday, August 28, 2009

Loved Against My Will

Two Parables of the Twin Truths of Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace

A Personal Parable

So I’ve started seminary. It’s been a wonderful first week. The demand that is placed upon you can be a bit overwhelming, and it can be a challenge to keep all the requirements and assignments and due dates straight in your mind. One thing that one of the much admired professors suggested we do to aid in our organization is to go through all our syllabi before the start of classes, write down every assignment – down to each individual reading assignment – note the due date, and mark assignments off as we complete them. It sounded like a helpful tool, and so I took his advice.

Now, I’m sure it will help. In fact, I’ve already experienced some of the benefit of having done such a thing. But one effect that seeing all my assignments for the next 15 weeks has on me is a feeling of being a bit overwhelmed. “I’ve got to do all of that??? By when???”

As I was thinking of such things I remembered an email exchange I had had in the last couple of months with our beloved admissions director, Ray Mehringer.

A bit of context for that exchange. You see, The Master’s Seminary has quite a rigorous curriculum when its attempted to be completed in three years. This is the “normal” course of study, but the majority of men take at least an additional year to finish. But since Janna and I have no children at the present time, and since it’s likely that we can survive financially on her salary as a nurse, we’ve decided that the best course of action is for me to not prolong this time during which the Biblical roles of family provision are reversed. So, simply put, I want the three-year plan.

And so I registered for courses according to the seminary’s three-year plan, making my first semester a whopping 7-class, 16.5-credit semester. Sure, that’s a lot. But that’s what I’m here to do, isn’t it? God has called me to this time of intense study. I should expect such things.

Well, what I didn’t expect was an email from Mr. Mehringer telling me what courses I would take, with one course noticeably absent from the list I submitted. I checked the catalog and noticed that my first semester looked identical to the… gasp!... four-year plan!

“How dare he!” I thought. “Didn’t he read my transcripts? Wasn’t he made aware of the diligent student I am? Maybe he doesn’t know that I have no children and don’t plan on working. Whatever it is, something must be wrong.” Pride is ugly, friends. Ugly. Seriously, praise be to God for His mercy, and to Christ for being so acceptable a sacrifice for such corrupt thinking.

So anyway, I emailed him about the whole thing and he assured me that it was in my best interest, especially for the first semester, to leave out one class. He said that in previous years, students have found it too taxing to do more than the 13.5 credits he’d given me. In my pride, I actually persisted a bit further (among other things, I really wanted to take the course that was dropped). And he replied, “Trust me, Mike. I’ll take care of you as I have the 700 men who have gone before you.”

So, nothing I could do. Against my will, I realized that I was going to be taking 13.5 credits, not 16.5.

And now, as I look at my assignment spreadsheet and talk to others about the assignment load in that class I'm not taking, I realize that Mr. Mehringer was right without a doubt, and that what had appeared to me to be his ignorance of my academic prowess and a violation of my own will was really love for me in my ignorance. Ray knew better than I did. And that only makes sense. But no matter what, I would not have consented to a lighter schedule. I was in a real sense constrained, or forced, against my will to have a reduced schedule. And I say it again: that was loving to me.

As I reflected upon that whole interaction as well as my course load now at the beginning of the semester, I’m reminded of non-Calvinists who hold that the greatest virtue of God is that He respects our free will. Our free will is His greatest gift to us. I’ve heard them say things like, “God is a gentleman. He won’t force His love upon us.” (I think Tozer said that, but it's been employed by all sorts.) And they hold out this refusal of God to overcome our will as something positive. As if, because it violates our free will, it is somehow loving to not love us without our consent.

But friends, it is not true that for God’s love to be virtuous and genuine that it must not violate our will. In fact, it is not as loving as it could be unless it violates our will.

That’s illustrated by my story. Ray would not have been loving me to "respect" my free will and allow me to have a larger course load than I could have handled. It would have been decidedly unloving to know better and do nothing to prevent me from the harm that I would bring upon myself and my family because of the demand of an overstuffed schedule.

A Biblical Parable

And lest I be accused of gleaning my theology from personal experience, consider the story of the angels and Lot in Genesis 19 at the destruction of Sodom.

Then the two men said to Lot, "Whom else have you here? A son-in-law, and your sons, and your daughters, and whomever you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it." Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, "Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city." But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting. When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, "Up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of the city." But he hesitated.

So what happens at this point in the story? The angels didn’t violate his free will because that would be ungentlemanly of them? They respected his free will because, after all, this is a godly virtue and because human free will is the greatest gift given to us and regarded by God? They let Lot and his family die in the destruction of Sodom because they didn’t want to force their delivering love on them?

Emphatically: NO! That’s not at all what the text says!

What does it say?

So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters… and they brought him out, and put him outside the city.

And why does God’s Word say that they did that? What’s the reason?

…for the compassion of the LORD was upon him.

The angels violated the will of Lot, seized his hand and the hands of his family, and brought them outside the city, against their will, because God had compassion on Lot! It was because Yahweh loved Lot that He had not left him to his hesitation, that of his own free will.

God’s violating Lot’s will was an act of love.

Ray Mehringer’s violating my will was an act of love.

And thanks be to God, dear friends, that while we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10), while we were God-haters (Rom 5:6), while we were hostile to God (Rom 8:7), while we loved our ignorance and were happy to remain dead in our sins (Eph 2:1), He overcame our suicidal, enslaved wills, seized us by the hand, and delivered us from the fiery destruction for which we were headed (Eph 2:4-5; John 1:12-13; James 1:18).

Thanks be to God that He does not condescend and succumb to our notions of love, respect, and gentlemanliness! His name be praised that His ways are not our ways, nor ours His, but that His are infinitely higher than ours! Glory to God that He regards His good, acceptable, and perfect will more precious and worthy to be respected than my depraved, enslaved, corrupt will!

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
- Ephesians 2:4-5 -

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