Laughing at Sin

Comedy is a human tradition as old as art. The earliest practitioners of theatre, the Athenians, had many famous tragedies, but they also entered comedies in their competitions. Some of us devote half an hour a week for the space of a decade for shows like Cheers and Friends (okay, I’m exaggerating there, but you get the idea). Comedy is extremely varied, but much of it involves sinful actions. A character makes an underhanded scheme that blows up in his face. Someone lies and gets found out. Some shows devote most of their airtime to sexual jokes, obscenities, and profanities.

Several pastors I know of have said that it is wrong for Christians to laugh at sinful situations. I can understand their concern. Sin is a deadly serious matter. One way or another, every sin is going to result in a curse, whether it’s Christ becoming accursed for us on the Cross or that person becoming accursed forever in Hell. What could possibly be funny about that?

Well, despite the prevalence of comedy in our culture, the Bible says fairly little about it. One admonition it does give is that obscenity, foolish talking, and crude joking are not fitting for saints (Ephesians 5:4). While this does not quite answer the question of if we can laugh at those things as long as they’re not coming out of our own mouths, it does indicate to me that we should steer clear of shows where that’s the common fare. So, a whole bunch of current shows are out. Back when television standards were more tight-laced, however, there were still plenty of hilarious, albeit more refined, shows. And I don’t suppose an instance or two of those things means we can’t ever watch an episode of the show ever again. Can we avoid those things in their entirety without going out of the world?

But, let’s say the humor isn’t dirty, but otherwise sinful. The underhanded scheme gone wrong, the lie that gets found out, the lazy person trying to get out of a commitment, etc. I don’t think we’re laughing because we approve of those things or even because we wouldn’t think they were a big deal in reality. I think what makes them funny is the irony when the guilty party admits what they’re doing openly to or tries some weak excuse- in other words, it’s funny because, while we might think such things, none of us would dare to state our underhanded purpose so blatantly. The British comedies Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister make fun of the bureaucratic mentality. When Sir Humphrey or one of the civil servants says what they’re up to or what their reasoning is, it’s funny because we know bureaucrats really think that way but a real one would never admit it in such plain language. Or it’s funny because the person gets themselves in a tight, awkward position through their scheming- we don’t approve of it, and it’s amusing to see them get their just desserts, usually in a broadly predictable pattern with a slightly ironic nuance.

One sin I think we should avoid as much as possible is blasphemy. In most shows today, there will be multiple “OMG”s and other taking of the Lord’s name in vain. Frankly, it would be best for us if we were as reticent about taking God’s name in vain as we are in using the N-word. The Bible is extremely reticent about this sin. I can’t think of a single time someone blasphemes and the Bible actually reports their words. It says, “The person blasphemed,” or, “On it were written blasphemous names.” If the Biblical writers are so determined not to expose their readers to blasphemy, I think we should do our best to avoid it although, again, the only way to avoid that completely is to never associate with a non-Christian again, and obviously that’s not what we’re supposed to do.

As a general rule, though, I think laughing at such sins, as long as we’re not tempted to do them ourselves, is okay. My chief evidence for this is Psalm 2. The whole world is arraying itself against God and Christ, and God’s first reaction is, “He that sitteth in the Heavens shall laugh. The Lord shall have them in derision.” Humor is largely based on irony, and what could be more ironic than utterly dependent creatures openly resisting the omnipotent God?

So, I think we need to understand what’s making us laugh in these comedy shows. Laughter doesn’t always mean that it’s not a big deal in reality. What we usually laugh at are carefully contrived fictional scenarios that bring out ironic words from the characters’ mouths. Were someone really doing these things to us, we wouldn’t be laughing. That said, there are things the Bible fairly clearly states we should do our best not to expose ourselves to. As always, we have to keep the glory of God foremost in our mind.

Infant Baptism- The Odds Are in Our Favor

Having dealt with one controversy, I should like to plunge into another, namely, infant baptism. My denomination baptizes believers’ children in addition to new converts, and I shall make the case that that is the proper way to do things.

First of all, though, I should like to say that I don’t think this is an issue worth splitting churches or denominations over. Given that Christ had Christian unity most on His heart before His death in the High Priestly Prayer, I think it’s arrogant, even sinful, how fractious the Christian Church has become. Churches, or at any rate denominations, should only be split when the current church is unrepentantly practicing something evil and dangerous. Thus, when the Catholic Church made a thorough practice of substituting or adding all kinds of things to salvation besides faith, grace, Scripture, and Christ, there was clear Scriptural warrant for the Protestants to break off. The Protestants then took to splitting off from each other in a quarrelsome spirit that is, frankly, disreputable to the Church. Growing up, I had a Muslim friend who thought one of the reasons Islam was more correct was how Christians couldn’t agree on their doctrine among all those denominations when Islam has only two branches whose differences he didn’t think were doctrinal but merely political. (The fact that those two branches were slaughtering each other in Iraq at the time didn’t seem to have much weight with him). Anyway, if it were truly evil to baptize infants or not baptize them, I think we’d have a bold print verse saying, “Thou shalt/shalt not baptize infants.” As it is, we have to go with clues from Scripture as to which way God prefers it, and I think the odds are on the side of the infant baptizers.

I live in a predominantly Baptist part of the country, so I heard their arguments in my theology class. They liked to say how the baptisms in the New Testament are all adult baptisms. “Repent and be baptized, it says, so you have to repent before you’re baptized.” “Well, hold on,” we infant baptizers say, “What about all the household baptisms in Acts?” There are four, and presumably the Apostles abided by this practice in many other instances as well. A household in those days consisted of immediate family, extended family, servants, etc.- the people under the paterfamilias’s protection and authority. What are the odds all of those households had no children whatsoever? John Piper counters that off the top of his head he can name four households in his congregation with no children, but there’s no escaping the fact that the most basic and most typical household consists of parents and children. That being the case, presumably the Holy Spirit would have clarified that the commonest conception of a household was not what He had in mind, especially if not doing so would lead most of the Church to do something wrong. It’s not hard to write, “along with all the adults of his/her household,” or, “along with his/her household, who were all believing adults.”

The clear implication of Colossians 2:11-12 is that circumcision has replaced baptism as the sign of covenant membership. Paul contrasts circumcision made with hands with a spiritual circumcision that comes from Christ and links that spiritual circumcision with baptism. It’s not something you do to announce your allegiance to God; it’s something He does to mark you out as a member of the covenant community. The Bible is clear that children are part of the covenant community. Jesus welcomed children and blessed them, and is there any other way to read Paul’s statement in I Corinthians 7:14 that the children of at least one believing parent are “holy”? Paul cannot be saying that having an unbelieving spouse is a magic formula for ensuring regenerate children since history has shown that to not be the case. Instead, he’s saying that children under the authority of a believing parent are, for that time at least, part of the covenant community, and if they are, why withhold from them the mark of admission to that community?

Baptists are apparently terrified and/or indignant that we would put a mark of covenant membership on an infant who may very well grow up to be a nonbeliever. Apparently, God doesn’t share that concern. He explicitly required circumcision of all male infants in Israel as a mark of His covenant with Abraham, and we know from the Old Testament that most of them wound up faithless and perverse. Nevertheless, God said that if they weren’t circumcised, they would be cut off from the covenant community. Given that baptism has replaced circumcision as the covenant sign, that’s about as close to an explicit command one way or the other where infants are concerned, and in this case it’s clearly a mandate to mark the covenant children.

Or perhaps you still don’t believe baptism has replaced circumcision. Here’s another question of probability. After countless generations of mandatory marking of their male children, Jewish Christians were suddenly told, “Neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision.” If baptism didn’t replace circumcision as the sign of covenant membership, or if it wasn’t to be applied to infants, what are the odds that Jewish Christians didn’t ask, and Paul didn’t have to explicitly write a negative answer to, “Well, what do we mark our children with?” Or, put another way, circumcision was explicitly the sign and symbol of belonging to the Old Covenant, and what else is Baptism but the sign and symbol of belonging to the New Covenant?

Now, I will admit, I got a little uneasy with infant baptism when I read the Westminster Catechism say that in baptism a “solemn vow [is] made,” which “obliges” us to obedience. For the longest time, I thought, “Wow. That’s the worst thing you can do to a child who turns out an unbeliever to oblige them to obedience with a solemn vow that they can do nothing but break.” In fact, that was the reasoning of Tertullian, the first recorded critic of infant baptism. Well, besides God not having a problem with doing that to unbelieving Israelites, recently I had the “duh” moment that, “Everyone’s already obliged to obey God anyway, baptism or no!” So, no, I don’t think baptizing an infant who turns out an unbeliever increases their punishment any more than it would be already for rebelling against godly parents’ admonitions.

So, from the clues we have from Scripture, it seems more likely than not that the Apostolic Church baptized infants and that we should too. That is certainly the plain reading of the texts. That said, I don’t think we should split the Reformed camp into Baptists and Presbyterians over it. Y’all should just come over to the Presbyterian camp! 😉

How (Not) to Read Revelation, Part II: What Did Jesus and Paul Really Mean?

Well, now that tax season’s finished, I’d like to pick up where I left off. My last post looked at Revelation and concluded that John did not mean to set out a linear course of events by which we’ll know when the Second Coming is. So what is Jesus talking about when He says in the Olivet Discourse, “When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors” (Matthew 24:33, KJV)? He describes some pretty unusual things occurring, somewhat along the lines of Revelation. I would posit that all the extraordinary events He talks about here were signs of the fall of Jerusalem. He says, “This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled” (24:34, KJV). To a Jewish audience, a generation would have meant a span of 40 years. Jesus said these words in approximately 30 A.D., and Jerusalem fell in 70, so there’s your generation. Moreover, note how Luke abbreviates his account of the Olivet Discourse. The disciples don’t ask about the Second Coming in Luke’s account, but Jesus still says that, “This generation shall not pass away till all this be fulfilled” (21:32, KJV). Evidently, these things are not referring to the Second Coming. Luke doesn’t mention the part about not knowing the day or the hour. I think this was the Holy Spirit’s subtle way of telling us how to interpret the extraordinary events of the Olivet Discourse.

Of course, how does this prediction measure up with what we know happened? Can we link all the signs to things we know happened? That interpretation actually makes a lot of sense. As far as nation rising against nation, there were a lot of wars in the 60s. Boudicca and the Britons famously rebelled against Rome, as did the Batavians, not to mention of course the Jews. Worst, Nero’s suicide in 68 A.D. led to the famous Year of Four Emperors in 69 A.D. There was civil war between four Roman emperors, a bloody event the likes of which only a centenarian, if there was any, had seen in living memory. This was the Pax Romana, after all, and Roman generals had not fought each other since Actium in 31 B.C. At one point, part of Rome burned, and Druids were proclaiming that the fall of Rome was near, a very dire prediction for people who had known a century of stability under its (admittedly stern) sway.

As for earthquakes, those were a common feature of the era. The most devastating disruption of the earth in this period, Mt. Vesuvius’s destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum, actually occurred 9 years after the fall of Jerusalem, but it was only an extreme example of a trend that had been going on for some time before Jerusalem’s fall. As for famine, we know of at least one from the book of Acts, and no doubt there were others. The Church in Jerusalem, who would be the ones most interested in Jesus’s prophecy, needed widespread financial support from the Church throughout the world, as shown by Paul’s letters. Certainly, the persecution depicted so vividly in the Discourse occurred in Acts as well. Of course, there remains the most spectacular stuff, the signs in the heavens. Well, both the Jews (via Josephus) and the Romans (via Tacitus) reported seeing strange things in the sky during the Siege of Jerusalem.

The early Church took to heart what Jesus said about fleeing Jerusalem in this event. At one point, when the Romans inexplicably withdrew from besieging the city, the Christians took advantage of the opportunity and left the city, such that not a hair of their heads perished, as Jesus had said.

Now, I’ve been mostly looking at Luke’s account for the predictions. Matthew’s does put what seems to be a clear description of the Second Coming in verses 24:27-31, which comes before the part about relying on the signs to know it is near and the generation not passing away until these things happen. I think this is a parenthetical aside, a digression from the subject of the fall of Jerusalem for comparison to the Second Coming, which is not to be included in the “all these things happening before the generation is gone.” Indeed, to include them with the signs that will make us know when it is near is to contradict Jesus’s saying that we won’t know the day and hour.

So that’s what I think about Jesus’s and John’s depictions of the Second Coming. I will say I have a harder time with Paul’s since he does seem to indicate that certain noticeable events will take place before it. Romans 11 pretty clearly describes a large number of Jews turning to Jesus when they see the Gentiles’ relationship with their Messiah, and that has not happened yet. His statement that their reconciliation with God will be “life from the dead” (v. 15, KJV) does seem to indicate this will be part of the end of the world. I really don’t know what to make of this, though I think it does mean we should be praying and reaching out for the Jews to recognize their King since it will be something great.

Then there’s the matter of II Thessalonians 2, where Paul specifically says that rebellion and the Man of Lawlessness will come before the Christ’s coming. I think the best interpretation is probably that Nero was the Man of Lawlessness and that Paul is largely referring to his persecution and the fall of Jerusalem, which were supposed to happen before the Second Coming. Now that these things have happened, Christ can return at any second. If we turn them into signs of Christ’s imminent coming, we make Jesus talk out of both sides of His mouth. On the one hand we have him telling the Twelve Apostles no one knows the time of His coming, and then on the other we have Him telling the Apostle to the Gentiles to give the Thessalonians signs of His coming. We’d be dangerously close to a contradiction in the Bible or at the least Jesus wasting His inspiration giving signs for an event that don’t help the hearers know when it’s going to happen.

These are all very controversial passages, of course. In this case, I think the safest thing to do is fall back on Jesus’s very plain statement that the Second Coming will occur while business is going on as usual with nothing we can use to know when it’s coming. However we interpret these other passages, we shouldn’t contradict something so unambiguous. He taught a lot about His Second Coming, but when He gave all those signs, He must have been referring to His coming in judgment over Jerusalem, not over the whole world at its end. I don’t think it’s helpful to compare every world leader we don’t like to one of the beasts or read Revelation while watching the news. However you interpret Revelation, it’s not going to tell you the day or the hour.

How (Not) to Read Revelation, Part I: What Did John Really Mean?

Is there a book in history as controversial as Revelation? How many books have close to as many schools of interpretation as it does, each with their own variations inside them? I’m not even sure of the name of my own school of interpretation, and I wouldn’t tell you if I did in case that would make you tune me out. I’m not confident about the interpretation of every symbol John saw, but I can tell you a whole bunch of Christians are reading it wrong.

Here’s what I will say I believe. I think the best interpretation is that the main part with all the signs and extraordinary events is a cycle of visions (usually counted at 7) telling the same story with different emphases and intensities. You can see that many things are repeated throughout the story that you would think would only happen once. For instance, chapter 6 has the stars falling to earth and mountains and islands being removed. Then in 12:4 the Dragon pulls down a third of stars from heaven, and in 8:11 another star called Wormwood falls from the sky. In 16:20 the islands and mountains disappear again. “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen!” is proclaimed in 14:8 and again in 18:2. A voice calls out, “It is done,” in 16:17, then John sees some more things happening, and then Jesus says, “It is done,” again in 21:6. If this were a linear progression of events, why the first, “It is done,” if there’s more to follow before, “It is done,” again?

I think the point of Revelation is to reveal the cosmic conflict that goes on every day as the Church struggles against a fallen world. I don’t think we should identify any one person we really don’t like as one of the beasts, but rather that when tyrannical governments everywhere imprison and execute Christians because they won’t put the state first in their hearts, we see the first beast at work. We don’t have that problem as much in America, but we do have the Whore of Babylon tempting us away from our spiritual duties with promises of material affluence and sensual pleasures.

Of course, the strongest argument against Revelation predicting the signs of the Second Coming is that Jesus said there wouldn’t be any.

Anyway, I can tell you what Revelation is not. It is not a linear depiction of all the extraordinary things that will precede the Second Coming of Christ like many Christians make it. For one thing, Christ is born in Chapter 12, midway through a book that starts after His Resurrection. For another, everyone who has tried to predict the Second Coming as imminent in his own day based on Revelation’s “clues” about his current events has been wrong so far. Every generation or so, the interpreters have to reformulate what the symbols stand for according to what’s going on at that time, though the job never wants for volunteers. Would God give a book in the first century that no one in the Church would understand its true meaning for 2,000 years?

Of course, the strongest argument against Revelation predicting the signs of the Second Coming is that Jesus said there wouldn’t be any. This is a case where we must fall back on the tried-and-true method of interpreting ambiguous Scripture with more explicit Scripture. In Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, the Apostles ask two questions: “When shall these things (the destruction of the Temple) be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (24:3, KJV). As I interpret it, Jesus answers the first question and gives them signs about the fall of Jerusalem, and then He answers the second question that, “Of that day and hour (My Coming) knoweth no man” and that ,“Ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (24:36; 24:42, KJV). I really doubt Jesus told His disciples that they wouldn’t know when He would come again and then gave them a whole book full of signs that would precede it. In fact, He says that He will come “in such an hour as you think not” (24:44, KJV), so evidently Revelation isn’t much use in regards to predicting the time of the Second Coming anyway.

Moreover, the depiction Revelation supposedly gives of the Last Days is significantly at variance with Jesus’s. He says that people will be “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (24:38, KJV); in other words, life will be going on as usual. That’s not what Revelation depicts. The people can’t eat and drink because they’re gnawing their tongues in anguish and the water has become blood, and they’re not likely to be having weddings while seventy-five-pound hailstones are falling from the sky.

So, bottom line: I think the Church has been seeing the prophecies in Revelation being fulfilled for the past 2,000 years. I don’t think it was written to just describe events that have happened in the last 50 years or so. What I do know is that you can’t use it to predict the time of Christ’s coming; we have Jesus’s explicit statement that we won’t know that. Tune in next week for a discussion of what Jesus said about the Last Days.

Six More Stupid Things People Think the Bible Says, Which It Doesn’t

A while back I did a post demonstrating with six examples that to find something manifestly ridiculous in the Bible to criticize about it, you have to make it up (if you missed it, check it out here: Anyway, here are 6 more:

  1. Racism- People think that the Bible condones racism against people of African descent. It’s true that that was the position of Southern slaveholders to justify themselves, but that’s really not what the Bible says. They said that in Genesis 9, when Noah got so drunk he passed out naked in his tent and his son Ham looked on him, Noah cursed Ham and his descendants into servitude to Shem and Japheth. Since the traditional understanding was that Africans descended from Ham and Europeans descended from Japheth, they reasoned that they had Biblical grounds for enslaving Africans. Well, actually, Noah curses Ham’s son Canaan, and this curse was played out in Israel’s conquest of Canaan in the Book of Joshua. As far as racism against Africans goes, consider Numbers 12, wherein it’s related that a Hebrew as saintly as Moses married an Ethiopian. Aaron and Miriam take offense at this, and in response to Miriam’s racism, God makes her white as snow- with leprosy! It definitely doesn’t look like interracial marriage bothers God at all.
  2. Male domination- Some people think the Bible was written by tyrannical patriarchs to support some sort of agenda to subjugate women. Yes, it’s true that the Bible states that the husband and father is the spiritual head of the household. Yes, women are told to submit to and honor their husbands. Yes, the Bible is very strict about the grounds over which a woman can divorce her husband. But the Bible has no comforts for an abusive husband and father. In Roman society, the paterfamilias had almost unrestricted control over his household, even getting to say when a baby would be exposed on a mountainside or trash heap to die. They were also notorious for their adultery, be it with slaves or prostitutes. To counteract this “toxic masculinity,” Paul told Roman husbands to “love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for her […] so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies […] for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church” (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 29, KJV). Yes, he’s the boss, and he’s the tiebreaking vote, but he’s not a tyrant. Peter tells husbands to “dwell with them according to knowledge [and here some translations have “understanding” or “consideration”], giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel” (I Peter 3:7), and he warns abusive husbands that being abusive will “hinder” their prayers. If a feminist has trouble submitting to a husband like Peter and Paul’s model for him, then that’s on her, not Scripture.
  3. Adornment- While we’re on I Peter 3, let’s back up a few verses to verse 3, wherein Peter states that, with regards to “adorning, let it not be that outward adorning, of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel.” Some people interpret this as a prohibition against all make-up and jewelry, but here as so often in Scripture, the “not” here means “not so much as.” Clearly, we have to interpret it this way, as an absolute “not” would ban wearing clothes! The point is that the Bible prescribes modesty in our outward appearance and a focus on inward thoughts and attitudes. Focusing too much on appearance or trying to call people’s attention to our outward beauty is unhealthy and causes us to overlook more important matters. Still, gold and make-up are allowed if reasonable. God Himself metaphorically says He gave Israel bracelets, a necklace, and earrings in Ezekiel 16, and God tells the Israelites in Exodus 3:22 to ask for jewelry from the Egyptians as they are leaving.
  4. Shellfish- I saw on a site titled, “25 Things the Bible Says Not to Do, But You Do Anyway,” or something like that, the prohibition against eating shellfish. Yes, there’s a whole list of things Old Testament Israel was not supposed to eat. Besides being limited to food that was safer with their primitive means of preparing it, this was a symbol to Israel of being set apart from the pagan Gentiles. Now that God has opened His Gospel call to all nations, these laws are no longer necessary. In fact, God specifically rescinds the kosher laws when he shows Peter a blanket full of unclean animals and says, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13), tellingly, right before Peter meets with Gentiles who are interested in hearing the Gospel. I don’t care for shellfish myself, but if you do, God won’t condemn you for eating it.
  5. Women wearing pants- On the basis of Deuteronomy 22:5, some people have a problem with women wearing pants. The typical translation follows the KJV: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment.” Well, for one thing, this is not a particularly good translation. The Hebrew is closer to prohibiting a woman from “bearing the accoutrements of a gibbor.” A gibbor is the term used for David’s “mighty men,” his elite warriors. But, really, the intent is for both sexes to maintain a distinct appearance based on what their culture associates with each gender. It seems pretty easy to me to tell women’s pants from guys’ pants, so that shouldn’t be a problem. A lot of this is cultural, as demonstrated by the fact that some of Britain’s finest gibborim, the Highlanders, wore kilts, whereas we would think of that as a decidedly feminine look. But in the wet ground of the Highlands, men working in bogs and heaths found skirts more practical than trousers, which were more for the rich gentlemen who had servants to carry them over water so their feet wouldn’t get wet. There’s a deeper issue than just a blanket prohibition on one type of clothes for everybody.
  6. God wants us to be miserable for our sin- When people think of the Puritans, they think of dour, humorless people oppressed by guilt. Besides the fact that this image isn’t true of most Puritans, it shouldn’t be true of any Christian either. God wants us to repent of our sin, and while much of that involves grief for the evil we’ve done, the other major part is finding joy in God’s ways rather than in our fleshly ways. Tellingly, there are only 7 psalms that include a really marked penitential element, but there are far more praising God. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. In fact, several times in his writings, the great Puritan Thomas Watson says that Christians going around all sulky and miserable is an insult to God that would turn people away from following Him.

Christmas- A Study in Humility

Theologians often speak of the earthly ministry of Christ up to His death as His humiliation and the period ever after as His exaltation. This Christmas, I’d like to delve a little more deeply into the humility aspect. Quite frankly, it takes my breath away. I don’t think I can do justice to it, but here goes…

I think we’re all pretty familiar with how humble the first Christmas was. Jesus’ parents were poor, so poor that a few days after Christmas they had to present the second-rate sacrifice for a firstborn specifically designated as relief for impoverished Israelites. Jesus’ first bed, as we all know, was a food trough. God called shepherds to be the first witnesses, and these people were far from royal heralds. There is a belief among Christians that shepherds’ testimony was not admissible. That is, if their saying that the Messiah had been born had been brought before the Sanhedrin, they could have been laughed out of the court.

But that’s just the beginning. For thirty years Jesus lived a life of quiet righteousness, obeying every part of the Mosaic Law but doing so little as far as the spectacular goes that the Gospels only record one event from this time period. No, He didn’t perform miracles or show off; John says His turning the water into wine after His baptism was the first sign He did. When He prepared to teach, He called uneducated fishermen with uncultured Galilean accents to be His disciples. He defended Himself resolutely against the effrontery of opponents who thought they knew so much more about the Law than He, but when these arguments turned violent, He either hid Himself or simply let them blindfold Him, spit on Him, slap Him, and finally nail Him to the cross. To any Jew this was a sure sign of God’s curse upon Him, and Romans held crucifixion in such horror that you didn’t mention the word in polite company. And even someone suffering that same fate still held himself high enough over Jesus to mock Him in His misery.

But consider what Jesus’ birthright was. He created the world and everything in it! To quote the old Jacobite song about Bonnie Prince Charlie during his time as a fugitive, “On hills that are by right his own, he roves a lonely stranger.” He could have called down fire on His enemies justly any time He had wanted to. In fact, His disciples suggested this to Him. Instead, “I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair” (Isaiah 50:6). Instead of stupid disciples who misunderstood Him at every turn and the praise of fickle crowds who eventually called for his death and picked a criminal in preference to Him, His right had been constant love from His perfect Father and their Holy Spirit and the praise of tens of thousands of perfect angels. To sum up His ministry, Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Mark 10:45).

Which we should consider next time we want to stick up for our “rights.” There’s a place for basic human dignity as a God’s image-bearer and protection of one’s rights, but sometimes there are more important things than some “rights” we think we have. Paul told the Corinthians they should rather let their Christian brothers defraud them than embarrass the Church and hinder the Gospel by making a case of it before the entire world. He repeatedly described how he gave up some of his rights for the sake of furthering the Gospel or to build up fellow believers. We should not be quick to point out every fault or criticize (let alone avenge!) every wrong done to us. For serious wrongs, Jesus gave a procedure for dealing with them (that involved keeping things as quiet as possible), but for many of the smaller things He said, “For charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). He also issued a grave warning for those who would insist on their “rights” against penitent transgressors when God did not insist on His infinitely greater right against them.

While recognition is nice and a natural human longing, Jesus sought the infinitely more valuable recognition from God the Father.

Christmas is a time to remember Peter’s instruction, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 5:6). People will do horrendously stupid things to be the center of attention. They’ll make fools of themselves before the world on Television and Internet, thinking themselves wise, or they’ll delight in mocking such people to feel superior. They’ll break promises to score cheap political points, or they’ll backstab to get ahead. What they want is the acclaim of man. While recognition is nice and a natural human longing, Jesus sought the infinitely more valuable recognition from God the Father.

And He got it. The same night He was sleeping in a food trough, a company of angels were proclaiming His praises against the backdrop of God’s Shekinah glory. Meanwhile, a special star commissioned by God was proclaiming His birth and whereabouts to neighboring Parthia’s elite who came to offer Him some of the finest gifts in the known world. God audibly affirmed His love of Him and claimed Him as His Son twice, and He was acknowledged as the great coming one by the first prophet to appear in Israel for 400 years.

But the big reward, like for us, came after His death. Paul said that, because of Jesus’ willingness to undergo such utter humiliation, God “hath highly exalted Him and given Him a Name which is above every name” (Philippians 2:9). Jesus’ glory right now is so great that one of His best friends fainted at the sight of Him. This is to say nothing of His official enthronement as King of the Universe.

One of the lessons of Christmas is that we should be worrying far more about what God thinks of us than what the world thinks. No bystander looking at a baby of peasants lying in a food trough would think that they were looking at their eternal Sovereign. When we stop seeking the world’s acclaim, we’re in a better state to seek the much more satisfying words from God, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

The Gospel According to Caiaphas

Many liberal intellectuals believe that people sin out of ignorance. With enough instruction and correction (though without using any forms of discipline that might hurt any feelings), humans can be perfected and the golden age ushered in. Well, that is not how the Bible portrays it. Jesus’s opponents in the Gospels have a very clear understanding of what Jesus is saying and oppose Him anyway.

In fact, often the unbelievers in the story have a better grasp on what Jesus said than His own disciples. After the crucifixion, the disciples have lost all hope. They assume Jesus is gone forever, completely forgetting the fact that He told them three times He would rise from the dead. The chief priests, however, are well aware of this prediction. Even if they don’t believe Jesus will rise again, they fear the disciples making it look like He has (which the disciples are far too demoralized to do) because they know that if Christianity can preach the resurrection, it will be unstoppable. Or, as they put it, “The last error shall be worse than the first” (Matthew 27:64, KJV).

Jesus’s opponents realized what so many people today deny- that Jesus claimed to be divine. They just didn’t believe Him. At the beginning of His ministry, when He announces forgiveness of sins to the paralytic, they assume He’s blaspheming because they know only God can forgive sins. Several times in John’s Gospel, Jesus’s claims of His unique relationship with the Father drive the Jews to try to stone Him for making Himself equal with God. Finally, they get the chance they’ve been waiting for when Jesus affirms He is the Son of God in front of all of them at His trial when they ask Him. Critics of the Bible today try to weasel out of Jesus’s statement by missing the contextual forest for the semantic trees. Because He literally says in Matthew and Luke, “You say that I am,” they claim He was denying divinity, but the chief priest’s reaction shows that he took it as an affirmation, especially considering Jesus’s going on to affirm that they will see Him coming in the clouds with power. The critics should also note how Mark reports Jesus simply affirming that He is the Son of God, reporting the plain gist of Jesus’s words rather than His exact statement. They should also note how in Matthew a few verses before Jesus answers the high priests, “You say that I am,” He uses the same answer to unquestionably affirm that Judas is the traitor. What He means is not, “You say that I am, but I say I’m not,” but rather, “You already know the answer to what you’re asking me.” Earlier they had asked, “Are we blind also?” To which Jesus had replied, “If ye were blind, ye should have no sin. But now ye say, ‘We see,’ therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:40-41, KJV).

They also knew what He required of them. That’s largely why they hated Him. He rejected their external traditions and demanded the much more rigorous life of self-sacrifice. They knew that if they followed him, they would have to stop doing the things that got them glory from man and do some real soul-searching and living for others. One of them, the Apostle Paul, realized when he met Christ that whatever he had thought he was gaining from being a Pharisee he would have to count as loss relative to what Jesus called him to.

All of the Gospels report rich ironies in their Passion narratives. Despite Jesus’s opponents doing all they can to obstruct Him, they wind up unwittingly affirming His truth or furthering His Kingdom by fulfilling Scripture. At Palm Sunday, the Pharisees cried out, “Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone after Him” (John 12:19, KJV). Though they were utterly frustrated, they knew where He was going. Ironically, the chief priests make a big deal about mocking Jesus’s being the King of the Jews and the Son of God at His crucifixion when Jesus didn’t make a big deal of those titles during His ministry. Yes, He knew He was God’s Son and the Davidic King of Israel, but He preferred to call Himself the Son of Man.

Jesus’s opponents wanted Him crucified because hanging on a tree represented God’s curse in the Old Testament Law. They felt a cursed death was fitting for one who claimed to be the Son of God, not realizing that Jesus was dying a cursed death because He was the obedient Son of God. Similarly, they scoff that, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save” (Matthew 27:42, KJV), when the reason He can’t save Himself is precisely because He’s saving others. They go on to taunt Him that God can save Him if He really wants Him, which is precisely what David predicted Jesus’s enemies would say in Psalm 22.

So, apparently, ignorance wasn’t really Jesus’s opponents’ problem. Their problem was suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. They understood what He was saying and knew that He was accomplishing signs to verify it, and they went ahead and opposed Him anyway. So much for enlightening humanity into perfection. If people understood Jesus’s teaching and it didn’t perfect them, I don’t think there’s much hope of liberal education perfecting them. Knowing what’s right is not nearly the same as doing what’s right.

Why God Does Things the Hard Way

For an omnipotent deity, God does seem to like to do things the hard way. There’s a lot of pain and suffering in this world, all of which we know He could prevent with just one word. There are plenty of unbelievers who reject His existence or His goodness on that basis. Even His plan of salvation called for the murder of His Son and His taking God’s own curse upon Himself. If God’s loving, why would He do things this way?

Well, I’m going to answer with an extremely unpopular response, but I’m confident I can explain the dilemma with it since the Apostle Paul uses it too. God ordains everything to happen in the way that will most glorify Himself. I know that’s not the majority report. The majority report is a more homocentric blend of God doing the most loving thing while still respecting the free will of His creations.

Well, when Paul dealt with what to him was the most agonizing part of God’s will, he didn’t use that explanation. He spends all of Romans 9-11 rationalizing what went wrong with Israel and why God would call a people and then reject them at the moment of the promised salvation. His grief at this was so great that he took an oath that he would be willing to go to Hell if it would save the Jews. He explains that there is still a believing remnant of Israel while the rejection of the Messiah means that the Gentiles from every race are being grafted into the Church until Israel will see what a blessing the Gentiles are getting that is theirs by right and want back in the Church.

Paul doesn’t go into an accolade of God’s love in this convoluted plan but rather of “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (11:33, KJV). Having reasoned out what is giving himself much personal grief and then found an explanation, Paul summarizes with, “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (11:36, KJV). So that verse is my premise. We like the “of Him” part where He sends good things to us, we like the “through Him” part where He brings us through our trials, but most Christians today balk at the “to Him” part where everything redounds back to His glory.

That’s understandable because we’re not allowed to seek our own glory. In fact, we really dislike people who do. People will do the most despicable things to win or at least be seen to win in the world’s eyes. It just seems more palatable to us to have a God who does everything out of love for us.

But how hard would it have been for God to create a multitude of Christians today who all love Him as perfectly as we will in the New Jerusalem without the need for a Hell or a murdered Messiah? And there’s something else to consider. The late R.C. Sproul was very fond of preaching Isaiah 6. He said that in Hebrew, to give something the utmost emphasis, you say it three times. There’s only one attribute of God that the Bible does this for, and it doesn’t say, “God is love. God is love. God is love.” Instead, it repeats, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3, KJV). So the attribute of God the angels most want us to be aware of is His holiness, and to that they link His glory. There’s nothing about love in Isaiah 6.

We like the “of Him” part where He sends good things to us, we like the “through Him” part where He brings us through our trials, but most Christians today balk at the “to Him” part where everything redounds back to His glory.

But how does God get this glory? He displays to His creation His love, wisdom, power, and perfections, and it responds to Him with praise. God gets glory by giving good things to us all. Who can object to that? That’s not an obnoxious General Custer getting himself and his men wiped out in his quest for glory. It’s entirely different from the self-seeking glory we’re used to other humans craving and debasing themselves over.

Of course God is the most loving being of all. He shows unfathomable love in saving us. But on one occasion of His delivering Israel, He says, “I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy Name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither they went” (Ezekiel 36:22, KJV). As elsewhere in the Bible, I read the “not” here not as “not at all” but rather “not so much as.” God makes it quite plain in other passages that He loves Israel deeply, but here He says His most pressing concern on His heart when He saves them is His own glory.

I’m going to work in a lesson I learned from Teutonic mythology. It’s infamous for its darkness. There are very few happy endings. With a few exceptions, the pervading ethos is that the only honorable way for a great warrior to die is in battle with insurmountable odds. Beowulf dies in a fight with a dragon that he wages alone until Wiglaf comes to aid him. Volsung falls in a trap even when he’s warned because he balks at the idea of fleeing. The Nibelungs perish to a man after holding off the entire army of Attila the Hun. At Ragnarok, the gods and the Einherjar fight the giants to the death until the giants immolate the entire earth. What’s with all the hopelessness?

The Teutons craved for glory, especially after death. To paraphrase a famous line from the Poetic Edda, all things die, but glory lives on. Obviously they’ve got the wrong priorities, but they understood that their heroes deserved more glory for doing the right thing when circumstances are against them and the right thing is the hard thing to do.

If you start with that premise, God’s will in hard things makes sense. It takes more wisdom and love to win a people for Himself who start out hating Him than just making one that already complies with His decrees, so that wins more glory for Himself. God the Father gives Christ even more glory after He submits to earthly humiliation and even delivers Himself up to death. It’s a Teutonic myth with a happy ending: the hero remains resolute to the end with the whole world against Him. Only this time He rises from the dead.

In my first post, I made reference to my experience watching Planet Earth by the BBC. Yes, the tropical biomes with the beautiful birds displaying their plumage to impress females is awe-inspiring and glorifying to their designer, but I found myself glorifying God even when the action changed to places I wouldn’t want to go in a million years. They showed animals adapted to scorching deserts and frozen wildernesses, eking out a much more difficult living than the birds who have nothing better to do all day than collect and arrange flower petals to impress females visiting their bower or mimic any sound they hear. Yes, it glorifies God when a lyre bird perfectly imitates a camera lens or a chainsaw, but if He were truly all about love and fairness, the whole world would be a tropical paradise. Instead, He shows His wisdom by setting up rugged habitats and then populating them with creatures designed to survive there in the most striking ways.

Paul invokes God’s desire for glory to answer another incredibly difficult question for Christians: Hell. Clearly, if God only wanted to show love, He didn’t have to create the Devil, and there would have been no tempter to bring sin into the world. Then there would be no eternal punishment for nonbelievers. But what does Paul say about this decision? Does he invoke free will? He says, “What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory?” (Romans 9:22-23, KJV). Why did God strike Pharaoh with 10 plagues? Paul cites God’s explanation as, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My Name might be declared throughout all the earth” (Romans 9:17, KJV).

Paul’s not alone. When Peter discusses unbelief, does he say, “They stumble at the word, being disobedient, because God left them to their free will”? Not at all. His exact words are, “Even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed” (I Peter 2:8, KJV). So God ordains even sin to come to pass since He therefore demonstrates His wisdom when He works good out of it, as He always does.

If you start with the premise that God does everything out of love, you might have a hard time explaining such difficult things as an untimely death or natural disaster. Doubtless you fall back on God being too loving to violate free will and then being too just to let sin go unpunished, but that’s not how Paul answered his struggles with God’s will. If you go with the premise that God is seeking His glory by how He will use His power and wisdom to turn all things to good, it’s much easier to explain (and Scripturally sound).

All Things for Good

God works all things for the good of His people. It’s a simple enough truth, but we frequently have trouble believing it. Often the situation, from our perspective, seems irredeemable. Some people even get angry with God. I’d like to do some case studies in Scripture to show how God can redeem any circumstance with three people who surely felt their world was collapsing around them.

First, though, I’d like to set the stage by giving you a quote that could sum up the feelings of the three saints I’m going to be talking about. Emperor Franz Josef of Austria-Hungary famously lamented, “Nothing has been spared me in this life.” It’s hard not to agree with his statement. His brother Maximilian had been executed by the forces of Benito Juarez in Mexico, his own beloved army had resoundingly lost two wars, his only son and heir had shot himself and his teenage mistress, and his wife, who had not particularly returned his affection, had been stabbed to death. That last event was the occasion of his plaintive exclamation.

First in chronological order, look at Job. Here’s someone particularly singled out by Satan for suffering. He clearly endured more than Franz Joseph. In an instant, he lost all his children and his wealth. His wife was taunting him to apostatize, and his friends said he already had. At times he accused God of injustice, but he never fully gave up hope that a redeemer/mediator would intercede for him. Prayers or statements of hope frequently interrupt his proclamations of innocence and God’s injustice. God humbled him by challenging him from a whirlwind, but when Job repented, God gave him double what he had had before. He lived to see 140 years and four generations of descendants, definitely more than he would have enjoyed if God had never tested him and found him (more or less) faithful.

Next, there’s the infamous case of David and Bathsheba. In a series of crimes so heinous the prophet Nathan likened it to a rich man stealing and eating a poor man’s only pet, David first committed adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered so he could marry her. David soon had to deal with a whole mess of consequences. Besides the agonizing guilt, God promised He was going to chastise David for this. David eventually has to flee for his life when his son Absalom rebels against him and humiliates him by sleeping with his concubines in front of all Israel, and he almost sees his kingdom torn apart by another rebellion. When David declared that the rich man in Nathan’s parable would have to make fourfold restitution for the stolen lamb, God seems to have taken him at his word. First David’s son with Bathsheba dies, and then Absalom kills David’s firstborn, Amnon, for raping Amnon’s half-sister Tamar (she was Absalom’s full sister). Absalom himself dies when Joab defeats his rebel forces, much to David’s grief. Lastly, just before his death, David’s son Adonijah attempts to steal the throne and eventually winds up being executed for it- four lost sons in all.

So what possible good came of this sordid mess? Well, first and foremost, no one can say, “Look at what kind of sin God is willing to tolerate!” That’s mostly why God punished David so severely. For David, though, good came from even this. God explicitly declared his love for David’s next son with Bathsheba, Solomon. In Solomon, David had an heir he could take comfort would accomplish his great dream of building a temple for God. Countless worshipers would have a magnificent temple in which to delight in God because of David’s liaison with Bathsheba. In the grander scheme of things, how many Christians have taken comfort from the extent of the forgiveness God extended to David? If He can forgive adultery and murder, surely He can forgive you. Meanwhile, to help Christians experience that forgiveness, David wrote the definitive work on repentance because of this sin in Psalm 51.

For this last one, I hope you’ll bear with a little speculation and inference. I’m thinking of the Israelite slave girl in II Kings 5. We don’t know much about her as she plays a very small part in the story, but what we’re told about her background tells us she experienced unspeakable trauma as a child when the Arameans carried her off as a slave. From being a (presumably) free woman among the people of God, she has been reduced to the property of a pagan. She has to serve people who oppress her own people. We don’t know if the raiders raped her or killed her family in front of her eyes, but slave raids are never gentle matters. She probably spent the time following her capture among a strange people anxiously wondering what would become of her.

So how does she react to this horrifying turn of events? Well, the one thing we know she does is love her enemies. When Naaman, the commander of the forces who robbed her of her liberty, falls ill with leprosy, she doesn’t gloat secretly over the hardship of her foe. Instead she refers him to the prophet Elisha, who she claims can heal him. Well, to make a long story short, Elisha does heal him, and Naaman becomes a Christian.

So what came of the girl? We don’t know, but I expect it was rewarding enough. Naaman was overwhelmed with gratitude to Elisha and wanted to make him rich for his miracle. Surely some of that gratitude poured over to the slave girl when he returned home. One things seems likely: the little girl probably spent the rest of her life in a more devout household than she would have if she had stayed in depraved Israel.

More frequently, I expect, we don’t get to see how God is working good through things. There are case studies for this too. Heman the Ezrahite’s only Psalm, Number 88, is the only psalm that does not contain a note of hope and trust in God. He describes how miserable he’s been since he was born and believes he is close to death. Maybe God turned his fortunes around like Job, or maybe he had to wait until he got to Heaven to truly enjoy some happiness. The point is, we know Heman is happy now, and presumably God was as pleased with him as he was with Job for remaining faithful in great trial and that he’s being more blessed in Heaven because of it.

Or consider Jeremiah. Here’s someone who had one of the most difficult jobs of all time. Living among a people who outraged him with their iniquity but whom he loved nonetheless, he had the appointment to warn them of judgment when very few of them would listen. God did not allow him to marry or have a family in a culture that almost obsessively esteemed that, and frequently he was in peril for his life from his enraged hearers. He had to endure all the horrors of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, where food ran out and mothers were eating their children, and then he saw the city he loved burned to the ground, which prompted the Book of Lamentations. We last see him carried against his will to Egypt by people who still despise him. (Why they made him come with them I don’t know- maybe they were cynically trying to use him as a human shield in case God fulfilled His threats of judgment on those who went to Egypt against his orders).

It’s hard to see any good in this for Jeremiah. Certainly he had trouble seeing it since at one point he was calling down God’s curse on the person who didn’t abort him when he was born. You can still see some good in it, though. God gave a vivid picture through Jeremiah’s sermons of things He hates so we can avoid them, and He also gave prophecies about the Messiah that the Gospel writers use to prove He is Jesus. Like Heman, Jeremiah is blissfully happy now.

God has promised to wipe away all His people’s tears. Whatever you haven’t been spared in this life, He’ll repay double in the life to come.

The Critiques of Calvinism, Part IV: Putting the L in TULIP

I originally intended only three posts on Calvinism, but one of my readers requested a post specifically about Limited Atonement, which is what really irks the Arminians and even some fellow Calvinists. First we have to define our terminology. Limited Atonement, the L in the famous Calvinist TULIP, maintains that, while Christ’s death on the Cross was perfect enough to cover every sin, it really covers and was intended only to cover the sins of the Elect.

Arminians claim that they believe that Christ died to cover every sin. In fact, I remember a discussion with one who posited that, once in everybody’s life, God presents them with the Gospel in some particularly clear way and that your eternal destiny is determined by what you decide at that moment. I would have loved to see his Scriptural reference to that.

The fact is, though, no one can believe in an absolutely unlimited atonement and remain Scriptural very long. If Christ truly lived and died for everyone, then everyone’s forgiven and righteous in God’s sight and belongs in Heaven. That means Hitler and Stalin are enjoying the same blessedness as Peter and Paul. That means that the Pharisees who committed the Unpardonable Sin are going to break bread with Jesus at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. We all know, or at least we all should know, that’s completely fallacious. After all, why should we warn people about Hell if no one has the slightest chance of going there?

Well, most Arminians back-peddle here and say, “Jesus died to cover every sin, except unbelief.” That’s kind of a real step backwards because unbelief is the fundamental sin. Jesus said that the people who shrugged Him off in Capernaum were going to receive worse punishment than the men of Sodom, who tried to heinously violate the then-sacrosanct law of hospitality by gang-raping angels and got wiped off the map for it! When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they were doing so because they refused to believe God’s promises, goodness, and wisdom in placing a limit on them. Given that unbelief is at the root of every sin, if Jesus didn’t die to cover it, one wonders what He did die to cover.

At any rate, at this point the Calvinist rejoins, “So you concede the atonement was limited in some way. Now we’re just trying to demarcate the boundaries.” Jesus has already done that for us, however. He said, “I lay down My life for the sheep,” not, “I lay down My life for the sheep and the goats” (John 10:15, KJV). That the sheep here means the Elect is clear from His continuation that, “Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep” (v. 26). In other words, if you don’t believe, Christ didn’t die for you. (Note also the order here. He says, “You don’t believe because you’re not of the sheep,” not, “You’re not of the sheep because you don’t believe.”) And in John 17:9, as Jesus is pouring out His soul to the Father before His death, He specifically says He doesn’t have the world on His mind, but only the Elect.

Arminians believe that God does 99% and they do 1%, but it’s what I call a “Montgomery” 99%. After a division of British paratroopers was all but wiped out at Arnhem, Field Marshal Montgomery, typically, claimed that Operation Market-Garden was 90% successful. After all, it had taken 90% of the territory that the plan had called for. The problem was, the 10% not taken was the Rhine bridge, which was the whole point of the operation! In much the same way, God can do everything He possibly can with all the love and grace that’s in Him, but unless that person chooses Him, all of Christ’s efforts are for naught. In Arminian theory, God could have made His Son a curse and a public spectacle to no purpose with everyone rejecting His offer. Or, put another way, Arminians believe that they go to Heaven because they did something the other fellow didn’t. That sounds like salvation by a work, if not salvation by works with an S. Getting salvation by choosing Christ is still getting salvation by doing something.

I will say I don’t think Arminians believe in their theology because they’re trying to rob God of some of His glory in salvation (they just do). Instead, they have the otherwise laudable intention of upholding the honor of God and His justice. The problem is that they start from a false assumption. They believe that, in order for God to be just, He has to love everyone equally. This is imposing a human standard on Scripture, which says, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor” (Romans 9:21, KJV), and, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (v. 13). Yes, it also says, “For there is no partiality with God,” in Romans 2:11, but this is in the context of God’s judicial standard and process, from which no one is exempt. The person who said that God shows no partiality, St. Paul, would most readily affirm that for two millennia there was a vast inequality in God’s treatment of the world. He didn’t give His written Law, prophets, priests, or anointed kings to every nation, but only to Israel. He lovingly saved a few Gentiles through Israel’s witness, but the psalmist made plain about God’s dealings with Israel that, “He hath not dealt so with any nation, and as for His judgments, they have not known them” (Psalm 147:20, KJV). As I said before, God owes no one grace, so we can’t say He’s unjust if He gives it to some and not to others. What’s owed to someone is justice. The beautiful thing about gifts is that they don’t have to be given; they’re given voluntarily from love, not necessitated by justice. Therefore, God can be just without counting His Son’s death towards everyone’s sin equally.