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Posts Tagged ‘free will’

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Read ’em and … weep? Just graduated from a year doing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College in Christchurch. I thought it was a fitting time to share what I had learnt with my readers! I’ve only included the essays which I thought I did a good job at and would be interesting.

Introduction to the Old Testament: This first essay looks at the theme of kingship in the Bible, with special focus on the establishment of the monarchy in 1 Samuel. This second essay attempts to outline “sexuality” in the Pentateuch and then uses Jesus’ interpretation of the law in Matthew to meditate on how best we can appropriate it. I regret not starting with a definition of sexuality and the bibliography is quite thin because the topic is so broad!

Gospel of John: Looking at the theme of divine and human agency in John, i.e. predestination and free will, I argue that each book of the Bible needs to be approached on its own terms regarding the information it gives on this. I had to write an application section as part of the assignment. Ignore that; it’s a let down. For my exegesis I asked if I could do the opening verses, 1:1-5. 3000 words on five verses! That was too much fun.

1 Corinthians: Paul presents the most in-depth discussion of celibacy in the Bible. Naturally, I was drawn to checking out what he was talking about. Our exegetical was on the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in 1:17-34. The application is a bit weak but I think all else went well!

Biblical Interpretation: A short, sharp survey of my favourite book in the New Testament, Philippians.

God and Creation: I will not post this one but if anyone is interested let me know in the comments section. This is a theological examination of the Christchurch earthquake. I definitely think it’s better to say something rather than nothing, and I have tried my best to be sensitive, though I’m still unsure what good reading it will do!

Salvation in History and Beyond: Something which I’m still confused about, Lutheran and Catholic approaches to justification. The essay is a little thin in the bibliography, but hopefully it’s a good enough introduction to the basic concerns. I dialogue with the Finnish school on Luther which sees something like deification being a part of Luther’s thought, the Joint Declaration on Justification, which is the result of many years of ecumenical discussion between Catholics and Lutherans, and a Liberationist critique of Lutheran justification.

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I’m back, but not for long. I was just reading Jeremiah and found this:

Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”

(18:11-12).

Probably would have realised earlier if I checked out a commentary, but there’s a clear allusion to this in Romans 9, the famous free-will?-no-such-thing passage:

You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(9:19-24).

In Jeremiah, Israel was asked to repent but ignored it. Interestingly, in Romans 9-11, Paul is nutting out the theological problem of why Israel has not been so keen to receive the gospel, which was first for them.

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This is a theme that has been developing in my theology over this year. Romans 8:18-23 I think demonstrates it well:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Here the imperfections and sufferings of creation, although they are tied to sin (5:12), are also “not of its own will.” I respect the theological qualifications of this passage that attempt to distance God from having any direct connection with sin, but the theme is prevalent throughout Romans, no doubt understanding that the same qualifications may apply: “God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (11:32). He sent the law, knowing that it would incite sin, yet that his grace would increase (5:20-21). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart for his purposes (9:17). And he used the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as part of his plan to include the Gentiles (11:15).

When God creates, the possibility of fall is intrinsic to his creation. God wills that his creation will freely respond to him so he must also allow free rebellion. Sin is not merely the individual breaking the moral law, delivered from this through repentance, but the failure of the cosmos to respond to God, of which creation is both perpetrator (sin) and victim (suffering).¹ Is God’s redemptive work in salvation history a response or always originally intended? I’m of the opinion that God creates with the plan to redeem, knowing sin is necessary to a free creation. Additionally, suffering may even be necessary for redemption to be fully realised: That which is created and freely loves God knows something of this love, but that which is created good, suffers and rejects God, and then is reconciled and redeemed, knows something else: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20).²

* * *

¹Anthropocentric accounts of the fall must first explain why the Genesis story includes a snake.

²Not that I am involved in any great suffering so that I can give meaning to it. This at the moment is a merely intellectual exercise, although I do appreciate that when Paul speaks of suffering, he means it.

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Nothing is more readily evident than that the greatest attainable certainty with respect to anything historical is merely an approximation. And an approximation, when viewed as a basis for an eternal happiness, is wholly inadequate, since the incommensurability makes a result impossible.

–Søren Kierkegaard

* * *

Kierkegaard, aware of the advances in history and archaeology during his time, argues that that faith needs an objective basis, but because the objective is constantly under question and development then this objective basis is thus impossible and all objective content that we base our faith on — Jesus’ death and resurrection — is merely an approximation. The divide between subjective (our approximation) and objective (what we are approximating) should also be called into question: Truth that is fully subjective has no content because the approximation is the subject’s reading of the object and truth that is fully objective is obviously inaccessible because we access objects through our subjectivity. Truth is therefore always in the relationship between the subject and its object¹. Truth is a verb.

* * *

To make use of some other terms widely utilised by Kierkegaard, approximation also occurs between the finite (here subject) and infinite (here object). There is a bias in which particular finite activities are the sites of interaction with the infinite (Of course, all of finitude is in perpetual interaction with the infinite, but this is referring to Kierkegaard’s concern for eternal happiness of the individual, and more widely, the site where the finite is redeemed from evil/suffering by the infinite.). For example, take Paul’s words in one of his sin lists: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 NIV). The key word here is idolatry, which brings to mind the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Sin is sin because it is a form of idolatry; it puts something that is not God above him. The first commandment could occur first because the following commandments are just variations on it. Alternatively, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v.1) can be seen as the first commandment, and the prohibition of idolatry is just a variation on the reality of God’s identity, the most rudimentary truth. Thus even if the penitent’s words in psalm 51 are applied to David and Bathsheba, therefore sidelining David’s poor treatment of his good friend Uriah, they still make sense: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v.4). Sin is idolatry and idolatry hampers the redemption of the finite through the infinite because the finite persists in it’s finitude, without acknowledged need for its definition in relation to infinitude: Idolatry is the relation of the finite to the finite, whereas worship is the relation of the finite to the infinite.

Idolatry somehow never appealed to me…

* * *

This, then, is the hypocrisy: Christianity privileges some finite means over others:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

(Hebrews 4:15-16).

Prayer is the relation of the subject (believer, etc) to its object (God). Prayer is an approximation, and cannot approach God as he is because this requires objectivity, which is impossible. Only Calvinism can overcome the idolatry of prayer by having God pray to himself through the believer as an instrument rather than subject. Is the answer to idolatry then relativism, that since prayer depends on a much closer approximation of God by treating him as he is due, as opposed to gluttony which involves a lot less conscious acknowledgement of God, the two swing back into their absolute categories and prayer remains worship while gluttony remains idolatry? Is prayer only worship or acceptable because it is less idolatrous than gluttony and vice versa?

* * *

This is the wisdom of Peter Rollins’ landmark book, How (not) to speak of God, where he examines the story of the Israelites and the golden calf. Actually, you should read the book, which is a lot more conclusive than this post. The Israelites were worshipping God, though through the medium of a golden calf, as is indicated by the almost laughable-from-our-perspective address to the calves:

He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

(Exodus 32:4-6).

Put aside the last sentence with seems to be the author also encouraging us to laugh at the naivety of the Israelites (as also the writers of the gospels encourage us to laugh at the continuing of-course-I-wouldn’t-do-that faux pas (plural) of the disciples), and you could almost have the same religion with just a different approach. The only other difference would be an almost purely linguistic one, where God, instead of residing in the ark of the covenant, is the golden calf. That overt idolatry is linked with revelry only seals the deal. The revelry arises because God is met on our terms rather than his own, allowing Rollins to say, “it is the way one engages with an object or idea that makes an idol an idol rather than some kind of property within it”. Idolatry is not objective but relational. God is not an idol but our relation to him is.

I think this adequately demonstrates the connection between the golden [rabbit] and feasting and revelry².

* * *

The problem is that idolatry and worship co-exist within relationality. The gap between subject and object can adequately be called worship (everything is within God’s will, inclusive of sin, that to barely exist is to worship him) or idolatry (everything falls short of acknowledging God as he is, therefore acting in response to an approximation of him, which is idolatry). The latter is to be preferred. Freedom/human agency to some mysterious extent is necessary because otherwise God redeems only himself, which means pantheism, which is itself a cover for non-existence. How then do we overcome the idolatry of relation, continuing to relate as subjects, which is entirely necessary to redemption?

* * *

¹This insight was refined for me in Žižek’s second essay in The monstrosity of Christ, appealing to previous trends in philosophy, of which Kierkegaard is also a part.

²My study bible notes that the language around ‘revelry’ suggests an orgy. Maybe it was a rabbit, and the later interpolation of ‘calf’ was a polemically motivated attack on Hindu merchants…

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At an experiential level, free will will always be easy to argue for. Then people start reflecting, they see the world as cause and effect and realise that determinism is easier to argue for. Then they realise also that the way they experience life can not so easily be discounted. Free will still exists, but not as true freedom; it is subordinated into a happy illusion that hides our dark chains to causality.

I here present no argument for existence as truly free. In another post I have even discussed some impossibility around imagining this. But work with this assumption here for a moment. If freedom is just a shadow of some deeper truth in a determined world (where we don’t actually exist, but are just an expression of the existing whole), what if this deeper truth of everything being already determined is just a shadow of something even more eternal, something yet more foundational, an existence that is truly free? I’m not qualified to qualify my speculation with any spectacular argument. I can only examine the operative value of each view.

If free will is an illusion then it’s not one that we’re not happy to live with. How many people choose, after becoming aware of their determined existence, to live accordingly? You cannot live accordingly. You live as you have always lived, and revel in it, because your false freedom is the consolation of your true unfreedom. Free will as an experiential illusion is a friendly gesture from existence to deal with your true bondage.

If, however, we accept the inevitability of our every action and begin to live a life more conscious of this bondage then our days quickly become shorter and our nights longer. The illusion of causality greedily hides from us our true freedom. Check out this quote I recently came across:

If an outstanding event takes place, a catastrophe, for example, it could not not have taken place; nonetheless, insofar as it did not take place, it is inevitable. It is thus the event’s actualization — the fact that it takes place — which retroactively creates its necessity.

(Jean-Pierre Dupuy, cited by Slavoj Žižek in The Monstrosity of Christ, p.77).

To paraphrase, as we approach events that are ahead of us in time, there are infinite possibilities concerning how the event could pan out. But if we reflect on events already past then all possibility disappears. There is no “I could have saved some extra money for the bus ride home”. No, you couldn’t have. You couldn’t have because you didn’t. And now you have to walk home. As soon as you do something, the doing of that thing, its actualisation, means there is no fantasy ‘otherwise’. The only reason you couldn’t have not spent your money is because there is now no possibility for you to go back in time and choose differently; the passing of time fully consolidates your actions and makes any other possibility impossible. The only possibility now is ahead of now, in future.

Not going to happen.

Yet causality does not stop there. It creeps also into present and future. Once you make the same mistake more than once, you face the possibility that your lack of freedom exists not only behind you but also ahead of you. This is a passing thought. Then one day you come face to face with your unfreedom in the present. Now is the time when you will need those coins for the bus ride home. You know this. You will not make the same mistake again. Yet you choose to make this mistake again. You squander your last silver on whatever it is that forfeits your ride home. The logic of past necessity has crept into your present, and it has not long to take your future also. If I have done this in the past, if I choose to do it also now, though I could choose otherwise but do not choose because I also cannot, then it is likely that I will choose to do so likewise in the future.

I’m pretty sure I started this post with some conclusion in mind, but I’ll finish on that depressing note until something returns…

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In my yet tiny survey of continental philosophy I’ve now and again encountered the dichotomy of possibility and necessity. A corrupt definition may be something like possibility being that which could be and necessity being that which must be. But notice my imposition of time onto the definition, even if I change tense. Maybe there’s a simple definition of possibility and necessity that goes beyond something which could have or must have been. Notice also that could be and must be can be used in reference to present or future? But there are further imperfections in the choice of language. To say that something must be is not pure necessity; there is a tinge of possibility in the word must. Pure necessity is better represented by is. Something that is is much more necessary than something that must be, and with that the shortcomings of necessity as a word are also exposed: The purest necessity actually is actuality, because something that is actual is ironically more necessary than something that is necessary.

But here also time confuses things. Is only makes sense in English when used in the present. To describe something necessary in the future we can say that it will be, but we have no designation for actuality in the future. This is probably because our conception of time doesn’t allow for actuality in the future. The future by definition, in referring to something that will be, necessitates that something to not be presently. For example, to say that Terminator II is an awesome movie and it will still be awesome in the future requires us to differentiate between present awesome and future awesome, although they may be qualitatively identical. Because there is a future for the awesomeness of Terminator II to not yet be means that presently Terminator II is not future-awesome, but only present-awesome. Time has required awesomeness to make reference to it, a kind of acknowledging of the sponsors. Terminator II is always awesome. If something is, then it always is.

Even simply prefixing is with always, however, makes it impotent. Always, though expressing it means there is no operating exception, necessitates the possibility of an exception. To say something always is is to defend it against the accusation of sometimes-not-is, sometime-past-not-is (not-was-is) and sometime-future-not-is (not-will-be-is). The only half-satisfactory word for actuality in English is is, and it must be expressed without qualifiers, in its pure isness.

This kind of thinking has probably led some theologies to conclude that God is outside of time. Take for example this verse from the psalms:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

(Psalm 90:1-2 NIV).

The psalmist contrasts their human conception of temporal linearity (Before the mountains were born) with a transcendent conception of God (you are God). God’s actuality cannot be diminished by any idea of past, present, future, yet his actuality, his isness, is poetically intertwined with our understanding of time.

* * *

Actuality is purest necessity. What is pure possibility? Possibility I have found to be a much harder concept than necessity. It requires a much more violent overhaul of language than a definition of pure necessity. If we can constrain must be by naming it is, what can we do to free could? There is some necessity in saying that you could be a closet appreciator of geraniums. The necessity exists in another possibility: In postulating your abominable appreciation of geraniums I make reference to the possibility that you are indifferent to them, or better, despise them. These examples might be more comprehensible with numbers. Say there is a 0.98 probability/possibility that you could appreciate geraniums. The other 0.02 denotes the infinite number of ways in which you couldn’t. To say could recognises this other possibility, the 0.02, as a necessity which holds it back from being pure possibility. Notice how probability restricts us from understanding pure possibility. To say either there is a 1 or a 0 probability that you enjoy geraniums is to lean very heavily into actuality. At both ends of the scale of possibility there is only actuality.

There exists no opposite of is. Something can not-is, be non-existent, but non-existence is a form of actuality. There is no freedom in is, nor is there in not-is. Does the lack of a kind of superlative for could indicate a lack of imagination on part of the English language? Can we imagine a condition of complete freedom, or is our freedom always understood in reference to that which is not free?

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They say, “Evil prevails when good men fail to act.” What they ought to say is, “Evil prevails.” — Yuri Orlov (Nicholas Cage) in Lord of War

* * *

To have a fateful¹ outlook on life means to see everything as inevitable. There is no room for “What if that…” and “What if this…” Everything just is. So the fateful person accepts the inevitable. But it doesn’t always have to be negative, like Shakespeare’s famous introduction to Romeo and Juliet: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes /A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life”, as if to say the tragic endings of the couple were determined by the stars. I was more worried about the fatal loins… Sometimes fate even seems to be on your side. “There was no way even I could have stood in the way of myself getting this job; it was meant to be” or “Everything good is coming to me lately”.

What’s this other word then, faithful? You might find, if you listen hard enough, that when most people say faithfulness, they’re actually saying fatefulness. The two just sound the same. Could they really actually possibly really be that much different? Yet at the heart of the Christian story, the very beginning, there is a rejection of fate; things are not the way they’re supposed to be. In the words of Switchfoot:

Dreaming about providence
And whether mice or men have second tries
Maybe we’ve been living with our eyes half open
Maybe we’re bent and broken, broken

We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?

This particular mouse had plenty of second tries

* * *

In the Christian tradition (of mission, contrition and spiritual nutrition) God stands in opposition to fate: We were created for communion with God and creation, but we rejected this for other pursuits so that the position we are now in is not our fate; it is not meant to be². The deus contra fatum³ (God against fate) summarises holistic biblical theology in that God has dealt the death-blow to death/fate and is continuing his work to restore an Edenic earth, to restore what is meant to be. To pray “Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10 NIV) is to acknowledge that God’s will stands in contradistinction to the state of the earth at present.

Jesus’ earthly ministry is teeming with examples of deus contra fatum. In one of my favourite examples, Jesus not only asserts the divine will against the fate of being born blind but he gives new meaning to it:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him[…]”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, made some mud with the saliva and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go”, he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” […] So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

(John 9:1-3,6-7 NIV)

The man’s fate was to live life without sight. Jesus’ reason for the man’s blindness is not so much a theodicy, a justification for his blindness in divine terms, as it is an intervention on divine terms. Of course the man wasn’t born blind for God’s purposes, but his blindness, on encountering Jesus, becomes a part of God’s purpose. Through Jesus’ redemptive work he gives the suffering a new meaning.

Paul heralds the deus contra fatum through his descriptions of the significance of life in Christ and Christian community. The gods are not an orgy of selfish caprice, demanding our sacrifices and punishing us for their own failures4, but the Lord himself would give his all for us (Philippians 2:6-8)5. We are not pawns in a chess game of cosmic-indifference, but loved more than we can imagine (Romans 8:38-39). All distinctions and inequalities that our birth and society thrust upon us are overcome in Christ and Christian community as we are adopted as children of God (Galatians 3:26-28) and citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

* * *

Ah, that was refreshing. But it’s all a bit simple. In some very dark corners of your beloved God’s Word we come across an altogether different conception of fate, one that necessarily arrives in conceptualising existence both as not as it’s meant to be and in line with God’s sovereign rule. But rather than blissful submission to deus ut fatum (God as fate)6, the subject takes on the spirit of deus contra fatum, this time against God himself. This is to say that “Your will be done” can only be prayed regarding this caveat a couple of verses earlier, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8 NIV).

Abraham prefigures universalism in his confrontation with God before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. He persists in asking God to relent from destruction because there may be righteous people in the cities (Genesis 18:20-33). Moses prays that God will not show the extent of his anger to Israel after they turn to idolatry, although the Lord is determined to do so (Exodus 32:7-14). The evil king Ahab is promised by the Lord through Elijah to die horribly but, after repenting in light of Elijah’s words, God adjusts his intentions (1Kings 21:17-29). And, much to the prophet’s dismay, Jonah pronounces judgement upon the foreign city of Nineveh, who in turn repent, causing God to change his mind (Jonah 3:4-10 NRSV — many popular translations like the NIV avoid the awkward theology; cf James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8).

Anyone keen for some modern propheteering? Nineveh’s back up and running!

Surely God gets it together by the time of Jesus though? Or maybe Jesus represents a stronger affinity with this side of God, one more open to the challenges of the people who accuse God of fatefulness. It turns out that his first miracle, the inauguratory water into wine, is a reaction to motherly nagging (John 2:1-11). A Canaanite woman interrupts Jesus’ important ministry to the Jews and demands his attention when he feels the need to focus on other things (Matthew 15:21-28). And towards the end of his ministry he seems to desire otherwise than God’s plans for him (Matthew 26:39), culminating in disillusionment with God’s abandoning of him, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 NIV). These examples show both how Jesus changed his will in regard to the desires of others, and how he as God was at odds with God.

Of course, in each of the illustrations from both Old and New Testaments, one could, to avoid Pelagian/Arminian heresy, etc, and maintain the duality of God = good, person =bad, impose their own theology onto the stories and read them as opportunities or tests that God was giving to reveal the true hearts of the characters in them. I think it’s somehow better to read the stories at face value though, and give them some credit in themselves for what they’re saying. In the Book of Jeremiah, the Lord admits to this principle outright, although it’s more so regarding sin, punishment and repentance (which a lot of New Testament theology problematises, eg. Luke 13:1-5; John 9:1-3; Galatians 3:10-14), rather than such as intercession (the Abraham, Moses, Mary examples) or beseeching regarding your own undeserved suffering (the Canaanite woman):

If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

(Jeremiah 18:7-10 NIV)

* * *

The biblical story of King Hezekiah is another favourite of mine. The writer of 2Kings praises him for his trust in and following after the Lord, connecting this to the blessing that his kingdom received and saying, “There was no-one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him” (2Kings 18:5-7 NIV). Take that, David!7 The thing with this dude is though that he, like other examples listed here, contested what God had planned, in a similar situation to the Canaanite woman towards Jesus. Basically, the prophet Amoz comes up to Hezekiah when he’s sick to let him know that he’s going to die. Thanks for the heads up, bro! Hezekiah is disillusioned. He weeps before God so Isaiah comes to let him know that God has decided to give him another fifteen years (This story paraphrased from 2Kings 20:1-5). But the interesting thing is that Hezekiah doesn’t get up to a lot in these next fifteen years. He managed to have a son, Manasseh, who was twelve when Hezekiah died, but turned out to be a bit rotten, according to the historian (2Kings 21:2). Hezekiah had seen a great defeat of Assyrian oppressors prior to his sickness (2Kings 18:17-19:37), and in his extra years the Lord promised the end in its fullness (2Kings 20:6). But all of Hezekiah’s righteous achievements seem to me more so a part of his previous life, that within the parameters of God’s will.

God pwning the Assyrian army

Maybe his extra years were a display of God’s grace. In fact, Hezekiah didn’t explicitly ask for more years; he only wept because he knew his time was near (2Kings 20:3). Isaiah records a song attributed to Hezekiah that notes he was in the ‘prime of [his] life’ when Amoz announced his impending death (Isaiah 38:10). This is where the argument goes full circle. It is the embrace of both Deus ut fatum and Deus contra fatum: God against the God of fate. Is this not the most viable conclusion to draw on the Judeo-Christian conception of a sovereign God? That is, a God who oversees and is in control of all, yet opposes what is going on? As the serious King James translators put it:

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV).

* * *

¹Fatalistic is probably a more recognisable term concerning the context, but for the sake of poetry!

²This, of course, is to avoid all that controversy around the Fall as a measure for God’s sovereignty (a euphemism for determinism). Oh, and that other controversy concerning the origins of evil, which is no doubt an uneasy paramour of the question as to whether God intended the Fall…

³Totally working on my Latin here to create the illusion of working within some historical theological parameters. Help me out if you can: deus (God, masculine, nominative) contra (against) fatum (fate, masculine, accusative). I was unsure whether to put fate in the nominative or accusative and what gender to use, but I’m pretty sure it’s the accusative because it acts as an object; the only reservation I had was that contra wasn’t a verb.

4Also a reading of Christianity that our theology often makes all too easy for us and the world around us to agree with.

5Paul’s embodiment of this complete self-sacrifice is an important example to make note of here, as it provides a good metaphor for Jesus’ cosmic humility in that it approaches the self-emptying from the perspective of the believer rather than Saviour: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:2-4, on Israel rejecting the Gospel).

6Does it still make sense if I replace ut for contra? Help me out here! And to what extent should I consider word order?

7Take that Jesus!???

 

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