Monday Musings for August 21, 2017

Good morning, Musers,

Who am I to limit God? That’s the first thing that popped into my head when fielding today’s question about whether or not God will answer… or even listen to… the prayers of an unbeliever. There is a go-to verse that seems to say that he doesn’t... but it fails the test of context.

So, what’s up here? Does God put himself in the box with the Scripture? That’s dangerous ground to tread. The scriptures are true and the scriptures are sufficient… but God enforces their limits as he does the natural limits of every piece of writing — and we should know this.

I don’t want you to misunderstand me here. God’s word is for all people across the ages. But we must remember that the Bible’s manuscripts were written in ancient times... and we can get ourselves into a lot of trouble by reading them as if they were tech manuals… which is a relatively new problem, by the way. Humanity didn’t even need technical language until the scientific revolution and the age of Enlightenment. But Scripture predates all that by over 1500 years! So, it’s a big mistake to press modern precision upon its ancient documents.

That being said, God tells us a lot about himself in Scripture — and he does so with ideas that are as big as he is! But big ideas are necessarily imprecise. Now, it is fun to expand on an idea… to let your mind have its way and travel where you will. But that’s a different exercise than exegeses.

Here’s an example. Scripture tells us that God hates sinners (Psalm 5:15), and the Scripture also tells us that God loved the world so much that he sent his Son to bring us eternal life (John 3:16). If you argue because of the former that God didn’t die for everyone — including intractable sinners — then you are pressing too much upon the verse. But if you imply from John 3:16 that every person in the world will be saved — no matter what...  then you are doing the same. Calvinists like the first, universal-salvationists like the latter, I’m in the middle… and here’s an anecdote.

I’ve spent over 30 years working as a communications technician, and over those decades, I’ve used many different test-sets — and some were incredibly precise. But no matter which set I was using or how precise it might have been, they all had one thing in common: design limits… and these limits were written right on the apparatuses! As such, it would have been an in-your-face abuse of the data for me to claim test results that were beyond the equipment’s design specifications… yet people do that all the time with the Bible. If we look at Scripture through a historical-grammatical lens, that will go a long way towards preserving a sound hermeneutic.

It’s still a good practice to play with speculative doctrinal models, however. For one thing, testing them is a good way to expand our thinking. And for another thing, critical thinking often proves them wrong. This is why I recommend that we always ask, do these ideas have genuine scriptural warrant? Or are we building castles-in-the-air — these elaborate and compelling doctrinal structures that… and very conveniently… have no foundations?

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