Friday, January 15, 2010


It seems that every few years on planet earth, whether it be a tsunami, an earthquake or some other disaster, something terrible happens. Haiti is another example. At this stage we don't know how many will die, it seems somewhere between 50 and 500,000 people! Whatever the number, this is a catastrophe. If one life is precious as I believe it is, this is a horror! This will also decimate a nation.

According to Haiti, even before the earthquake, is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Its unemployment rate before the quake was 80%. More than 50% lived off less than a dollar a day. The infrastructure was totally inadequate with few paved roads, an inadequate water supply and few utilities. 60% of the population lived in abject poverty! Less than 20% of Haitians over the age of 15 could read and write. Less than 75% of Haitian children attended school. The health care system before the disaster was already patently inadequate with 40% of Haitians without access to primary health care! 6% have HIV/AIDS, the highest in the western hemisphere. 30,000 die of AIDS alone each year. There were already 150,000 AIDS orphans. The numbers of street kids had grown exponentially due to the poor abandoning their children.

If such a disaster had hit a first world country like NZ, it would have been terrible. But the damage would not be as bad, the casualties much fewer, and the recovery quicker. Haiti is one of the worst places on earth for this to happen. It is also an island nation and so isolated. It is hard to access.

What is unfolding then is a disaster of unimaginable proportions. What is our response?

1. We Must Do Something.

Each of us needs to give something to the AID relief effort. Even if we can give a dollar, it will help. Sure, half of that will end up in admin, but the other half might help. The Samaritan Parable tells us not to simply walk past whatever our excuse. We must give something, we must make like the Samaritan.

2. We Must Pray.

We have to pray for this nation. We must pray for God's mercy, to preserve those who are trapped, to cause the wealthy nations of the world to rise up and get there with all the help they can. The need is urgent. Time is of the essence. Maranatha, our Lord come! Have mercy Lord. Raise up the nations to help them!

3. Is there More Some Can do?

It seems to me that above all they need medics. Are there some here, who are on a beach, who can make a few calls, and get to this nation to help? I am no medic; I would just get in the way. Is this a time when a doctor, nurse or other can make contact with the powers that be to make themselves available. Perhaps the system and situation makes this more difficult; but perhaps some can try.

There are big theological questions that come out of this for me; tough ones!

1. How Can This Nation Be in This State?

As I look at a world map, I see that the USA is very close to this island nation. How can it be, that the USA is overflowing with wealth, yet here is a nation in such a state. Perhaps the politics of the region make the US helping such a nation difficult. Still, it is wrong. The US pours trillions into military development, invading Middle Eastern countries, space programs; not to mention their opulent lifestyles. This brings out the inequality of our world. Again, the west is exposed for its greed, materialism, consumerism and stands before God for it.

We should ponder this deeply ourselves. The Pacific is full of nations like this one, although not perhaps in as bad a plight. What are we doing for our island neighbours aside from recruiting their best boys for the AB’s? Are we doing enough? Sometimes I am ashamed to be part of the wealthy. I think of camels and needles. I wonder. Is it any wonder that the west is in spiritual decline? Is it God's wrath on us?

2. The Theological Problem of Natural Disasters.

I have to admit, as a theological thinker, that such events pose the greatest problem for me in terms of theology. Human-caused evil is easily explainable theologically. Human sin and the cosmic power of Satanic evil give a good account of things like war, poverty and oppression. We are to blame. We do it.

But, explaining earthquakes, tsunamis’, hurricanes, eruptions, floods and other natural disasters is the most difficult thing. At times like this I find my explanations weak and to be honest, inadequate.

My way of understanding these is that at the fall of humanity, whereby they rebelled against God, evil was released into the cosmos. It is as if corruption was downloaded into the A Frame of planet earth working its way into every crevice, including creation itself. My main clue comes from Romans 8 where the whole of creation groans under the oppression of death and decay. As such, cosmic disasters like this are a consequence of the fall. As such, disasters whether seismic, meteorological etc, are due to the corrupting of God's creation, due to evil being let loose in the world.

A scientific response might call this naive, arguing that such events are the norm in the world, and part of the fabric of life on earth. If so, then death and destruction is part of life on earth, always has been, always will be.

As I believe the biblical narrative to be our primary explanation point, I think that this is incorrect. However, I cannot defend it, I am appealing to a period in history when such things did not happen, and I cannot prove this. I also hope for the day when such events do not occur. They are to be expected according to Jesus (Mt 24; Revelation). And the day is coming when they will end. Earth will be healed and humanity will live in peace and harmony with God in a world free of such things (cf. Rev 20-22).

I am not sure how comforting this is to the people of Haiti. Reeling out theological lines like 'all things work for the good...' somehow seems hollow. For me, this must be sown into our hearts before an event hits or else it is of little use when it does. So, I hold onto this explanation, but I have to say at a time like this it is severely tested.

One thing I do not like hearing is American evangelists saying that it is caused by the sin of the nation of Haiti. Perhaps it is, I will let the prophets decide. For me, if I was God, and thankfully I am not, it would not the poor nation of Haiti that would be struck, it would be the arrogance of nations that consume consume consume, that oppress, that rape and pillage the poor to maintain their gross lifestyle.

Anyway, there endeth this rant. I am deeply grieved. God have mercy on us all. And send your salvation to Haiti, in Jesus' name.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Predestination and Free Will

A friend of mine has asked my opinion on the challenging theological question of the relationship of predestination and free will. That is, if everything is predestined it is predetermined, and if it is predetermined, then there is no such thing as freedom. On the other hand, if there is freedom in the sense of alternate possibilities, then there is things are not determined. The issue is complex and in my view there is no definitive solution. Here is my take on this issue. Rather than go through the whole thing, I will suggest some ideas I use to deal with the issue.

1. The Bible Affirms God's Knowledge of the Future and Thus, In One Sense, All is Predestined.
As I read the Scriptures, the Bible affirms that God knows all things, that is, he is omniscient. We see this at work in predictive prophecy, where Jesus for example, can know that Judas will betray him, and that Peter will deny him. There are also a range of OT prophesies which are fulfiled in the NT indicating God's knowledge over time. For example, Jesus' birthplace Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), that he would minister in Galilee and be called Might God among other things (Is 9:1-6). The predictions of the second coming of Christ are based on this.

To me, God's knowledge of the future indicates that, looking at the world from the perspective of God in his omniscience, all is set. This is scary to some, and seems to preclude freedom of any sort. This leads some Christians to take on the theology of hyper-Calvinism. This theology suggests that all is set, and that God has predetermined some for eternal life without any reference to their own volition.

2. The Bible Affirms Human Volition.
As I read the Scriptures, repeatedly we see evidence of people living out choices in their humanity and relationship with God. There is no evidence of robotic behaviour. People make choices. For example, Jonah is told by God to preach in Ninevah, but takes an alternative option, leading to God moving against him, and he ultimately relenting. We see people believing in God and falling away like Demas and Judas. The idea of salvation by faith presupposes human response to God. Some argue that faith is gift from God given to those God chooses. There are three texts that are misappropriated here. Eph 2:8-9 speaks of a gift from God and some believe the gift if faith. However, this is poor exegesis, as the gender of faith is feminine and 'this' is neuter, indicating that the gift is not the faith. The other two texts in 1 Cor 12:8 and Phil 1:29 can be explained without a harsh deterministic interpretation. For me, faith is the response of humanity to God. It is God-enabled, but not God-coerced. God calls us, enables us by his Spirit to respond, and we either do or don't. God's desire is the salvation of everyone (1 Tim 2:4-5; 2 Pet 3:9-10). We are saved by faith, this is not a work, but a willful acceptance of God's salvation. I like to call this human dimension of the puzzle, volition, rather than freedom. You see, 'freedom' is an illusion. No one is fully free but their choices are constrained by their own limits, understanding and context. Volition carries the same sense, that we can make choices.

This precludes for me the idea of a God who creates humankind without volition and chooses some and not others to spend eternity with. There is no apparent difference between a believer and an unbeliever in terms of volition. All are made in his image, he wants all to be saved. To argue harsh determination turns God into a cosmic monster, the antithesis of the God of the Scriptures. Neither does the argument of universalism stand. Universalism removes the problem of predestination and free will by arguing all are saved. The NT definitively states some will be saved, and others will not be.

3. These work together as a dialectic, in tension.
Putting these two together is a mystery in a sense. From our point of view it is impossible to satistactorally explain it. As I see it, we hold the two together in tension. This is a dialectic. I affirm both, and hold them together as truth, in tension.

As such, we can say that God has predetermined everything and within the framework of this, there is volition. God has allowed for this element within his knowledge. One way of thinking about it is a DVD of a movie. As we buy the DVD of our lives, the story is set and complete. However, within the framework of the life, there are millions of moments and choices. There is thus a blend of a complete story, and volition leading toward its outcome. This is an inadequate explanation, but I find it helps.

So, putting it together. I do not feel a need to resort to the Open Theists perspective or that of Arminianism to accept which seek creative explanations to the problem to ensure freedom is preserved. Rather, I would agree with compatibalism which agrees that determinism and volition are not incompatible. This is soft determinism.

Having said all this, I hold lightly to the way in which the two ideas can be reconciled. I affirm both and am happy to live with the tension of uncertainty concerning the how and the exact way in which the two work together. After all, I am not God, which is good news for the universe!

I know God is doing all he can to save all peoples. I know his because of the cross where Jesus voluntarily lived out his destiny and died for me on the cross. In so doing, he showed me the path of life. True freedom is to live out my humanity as I was created to do. It means me discovering the heart of God, seen on the cross, and give my life for his service. That is freedom, the freedom to love. Spirit, enable me to become that for which I was created, an image bearer living by faith springing forth into love.