6-3 The Inconsistency Of God: Bible Paradoxes
What follows is admittedly rather complex- at first reading. But
please persevere. Because every honest Bible student, every sincere
follower of God, will find themselves faced with Bible paradoxes
and contradictions which can be extremely worrying; until we have
a framework upon which to hang them and within which to understand
What I want to put to you is that God is very often inconsistent-
to our human eyes. Indeed, the closer we analyse the Bible, the
more we meditate upon God's ways, the more evident it becomes that
contradictions and paradoxes are woven throughout the fabric of
God's self-revelation to us. Of course, there are some apparent
paradoxes and contradictions which can be easily resolved. But there
are others, I suggest, which simply cannot be resolved by us. Exactly
why God has revealed Himself in this way is hard to completely understand.
But perhaps one simple reason is that He wishes to teach us the
extent to which His ways are higher than ours; He wishes to instil
into us a far deeper spiritual humility, a deeper sense that as
a dog is to a man, so is a man to God. The word 'acceptance' is
absolutely vital in all this. A dog accepts his dependence
on his master, he loves his master, but he is aware that he simply
has no real handle on how to comprehend his master's actions. If
God is not inconsistent, then it follows that God must
always appear consistent to human eyes. This would mean that God
was somehow bound to act and explain Himself in a way that was neat
and tidy in our human terms. It seems that this is what we would
rather have; a God that was a super-man, a man like us who was just
super-powerful. But God is God, and not a super-man. Therefore His
ways and thoughts must be intrinsically higher than ours;
as far above ours as the heaven is above earth (Is. 55:9). And if
we seriously accept this, it is apparent that God is going to act
in ways which are totally and inexplicably inconsistent to our eyes;
not just ways which are hard to reconcile, but ways which
are irreconcilable. And therefore there are Bible paradoxes.
Not least is this shown in the mystery of the salvation of man which
He wrought in Christ. The woman of Tekoah realised some of this
when she spoke of how “We must needs die, and are as water spilt
on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again…yet doth [God]
devise means, that his banished be not expelled from him” (2 Sam.
14:14). Her point was that as God in some sense breaks His own laws,
e.g. that sin leads to permanent death, so surely David likewise
could have the same spirit of grace and bring about the salvation
of someone rightly appointed to death. This explains the many purposeful
paradoxes and apparent contradictions within the book of Ecclesiastes.
Mark Vincent has well observed: “They are part of the way
of things “under the sun”; they are not puzzles to be “solved” by
a crusade of reconciliation...God’s ways are ultimately inscrutable
to human view. There will always be things that we cannot fully
understand...for the Preacher tells us that we “shall not be able
to find it”” (‘Yes...But....’, Tidings, Vol. 62
No. 5 p. 178).
The statements in the first two columns following could each be
supported by many Bible verses and doctrines. These have not been
added because it is not the purpose of this study to analyse the
issues themselves, but rather the principle of contradiction.
People are predestined to either be in the Kingdom, or not
to be. We are not just predestined to be called, i.e. to
be given the opportunity; some are predestined to achieve
the image of Christ in their lives. Others stumble at God's
word, because they were ordained to do so.
finds fault with those who do stumble at His word, and He
is pleased with the obedience of the righteous. In other
words, there is freewill.
we try to explain this by saying that God's predestination
takes into account our freewill decisions. But not only
is this never taught in Scripture; this theory makes the
concept of predestination meaningless. Paul tackles this
problem in Rom. 9; and he doesn't start talking about freewill.
All he says is that it is not for us to question God if
He finds fault with someone He has predestined to destruction.
And in the context, Paul is arguing that the fact there
is this inexplicable predestination should humble us, as
it should have humbled Israel, who were predestined to God's
favour not because of their own freewill efforts
to be obedient.
Adam was to die in the day he ate the fruit.
No man can redeem his brother,
or bear the iniquity of another (Ez. 18:20).
he didn't. This is one of the most well known Bible paradoxes.
But Christ, as a man,
acceptably bore our iniquity.
is one of redemption's finest mysteries. No theory of atonement
can ever explain the paradox of redemption.
Nineveh would be destroyed in 40 days from Jonah's preaching;
regardless of whether it repented.
changed His mind. This didn't happen.
word is presented to us as always true and reliable; which
it is, ultimately.
God's purpose is unchanging; He reveals Himself, and we
must accept that what He says will happen.
God said He would bring the
Israelites out of Egypt, and lead them to the land of Canaan.
prayer and behaviour can change God's expressed purpose.
Another Bible paradox.
God brought them out of Egypt
and destroyed them in the wilderness, just as they feared;
He changed His purpose with them half way through (Num.
purpose is presented to us as a solid rock; which it is,
ultimately. Surely here and in nos. 2 and 3 above, God is
asking us to believe that His word and purpose are
sure from His perspective, although in human eyes His word
and purpose may appear most variable.
There is a fixed date for Christ's return, arranged by God
from the beginning, after certain things have happened.
seems Solomon could have been the Messiah, if he had continued
in faith; Christ perhaps would have established His Kingdom
in the first century, had Israel accepted him. Many passages
suggest that Christ's coming can be hastened by our prayers,
our growth in spirituality as a community, the world-wide
spreading of the Gospel, and Israel's repentance- among
particularly is one of those Bible paradoxes which defies
answers prayer as a result of the fact that we believe and
as a token that we are acceptable before Him (1 Jn. 5:14
there are examples of where God answers the prayers of those
who don't believe with a full faith, and even of those who
later will be condemned (Zacharias; the believers praying
for Peter's release; Mt. 7;21-23)
relationship between faith and answered prayer is not so
simple as it appears in some passages. God is working with
us at a higher level than simply responding to our words
as a token of His acceptance of our faith.
God hates divorce; He only allowed it for Israel "
for the hardness of your hearts" . Under the Law of
Moses, God forbade His people to re-marry the wife they
God divorced Israel, His wife, because she was unfaithful.
Yet He asks her to return to Him and re-marry. He breaks
His own law, committing what He described as " abomination"
, in order to show His love for Israel. Likewise, the law
taught that the firstborn was to have a double portion above
his brethren. But we are made joint-heirs with Christ, the
firstborn (Rom. 8:17). This is yet another paradox of grace.
sounds like God saying 'Do as I say, not as I do'. We grow
up expecting our parents, our school teachers, our bosses
to be consistent, to be living examples of the behaviour
they expect from us. And we feel we should do likewise when
we become parents, teachers, bosses...but God is only like
a Father to us in some ways. He is God, not man; so He won't
be consistent as a human father should be.
laws are absolute, and He warns from examples of previous
7. David murdered, committed
adultery and even the deadly sin of presumption (2 Sam.
12:9 cp. Num. 15:31). Yet these were overlooked by God as
if they were 'surface' sins; the real man David was
accepted by God and held up as a wondrous example to all
Likewise Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob all had a very human side, full of these 'surface'
weaknesses (if indeed such things exist). Yet they are held
up as heroes of faith.
He makes concessions to human weakness (see 2.7). Having
reminded Israel of how they sinned with the Midianites,
He allows them to keep unmarried Midianites as wives (Num.
Uzzah's sin in touching the
ark is recorded in such a way as to suggest that he was
trying to help God; he loved God, in his own way. Yet God
destroyed him, apparently, for one sin. Moses likewise was
barred from the land for one sin. The record of Eli paints
him as a nice old boy who basically loved God, although
(like most parents) he was a bit soft on his kids. But God
rejected him for this.
is His softness towards us, and more essentially, His earnest
desire to save men who may not 'make it' on the basis of
straight obedience. Again, Bible paradoxes abound in this
Of course we could reconcile
these two columns by saying that God knows the heart; as
indeed He does. But my point is that these records are presented
in such a way as to invite the observation, on a human level,
that God is not consistent. We are assuming that
God knew that Eli and Uzzah were very wicked compared
to (say) David or Jacob, and so that was why He was very
hard on them. But this is only guesswork. Isn't it
better to do as God intended, and accept that this is a
contradiction within God's self-revelation?
Many of the faithful had more than one wife; many of them
behaved in a manner inconsistent with God's standards of
marriage. Thus Abraham is presented as having almost a casual
relationship with his slave-girl Hagar because he and his
wife didn't think God's promise of a seed was going to be
fulfilled through Sarah.
God is extremely critical of any marital inconsistencies.
we really to believe that sometimes the same behaviour is
seen by God as a serious sin, whereas at others He overlooks
it, treating these things as (apparently) 'surface sins'?
Surely God is a God of principle, and His principles are
true for all time? Yet His grace and understanding is such
that the way He deals with men must sometimes leave us with
a sense of paradox as we examine it.
Our salvation is by pure grace; the more we mature spiritually,
the more we see that there is absolutely nothing which we
can do to attain our own redemption. We are saved by grace,
not our works, nor by any acts of obedience to a set of
commands (see Rom. 1-7 in the RVmg.).
God will not justify the
wicked (Ex. 23:7); and He hates those who do so (Prov. 17:15
cp. 24:24; Is. 5:23)
said: " If ye love me, keep my commandments" (Jn.
14:15), alluding to Moses' statement that God would only
save Israel if they shewed their love for Him by keeping
the Mosaic commandments (Ex. 20:6). Works and acts of obedience
are important; e.g. baptism.
But God justifies sinners
Israel have been rejected as God's people; " Ye are
not my people" , He clearly told them. Paul appears
to quote this out of context in Romans. In the same section,
he seems to get things twisted when he talks of how
the bad, wild tree has been grafted into the good one; it's
done the other way round. These designed inconsistencies
are surely to show that the meaning of grace can only be
understood in terms of contradiction and paradox, when we
try to express it in human terms.
“He that made them will not
have mercy on them, and he that formed them will show them
no favour” (Is. 27:11)
God said He would destroy
Israel in Egypt (Ez.. 20:8). But He didn't.
in another sense, Israel have not been rejected, due to
God's 'illogical' level of love for them: " How shall
I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee up, Israel?
how shall I make thee as Admah? mine heart is turned within
me, my repentings are kindled together" (Hos. 11:8).
His grace and judgment of
sin are all linked together within His character: "
I have given the love of my soul into the hand of her enemies"
But the very fact that God
did form and make Israel is the reason God gives for appealing
to them to receive His ever-available mercy (Is. 43:1; 44:2;
" But I wrought for
my name's sake, that it should not be polluted" (Ez.
apparent contradiction shows how God's love and grace towards
His people defies even His own stated purpose; the love
of God cannot be presented to us without the use of contradiction
and paradox. We as human beings simply lack the paradigms
to handle the love of God for us. Therefore there have to
be Bible paradoxes.
The way these passages all
occur within Isaiah encourages us to connect them. He will
not have mercy on them, He will not pity them (as Ezekiel
often says)- but He does.
swore that He would destroy Israel in the wilderness (Ez.
God would punish Israel at
the hand of the Babylonians according to their sins, proportionate
to them (Ez. 7:4,9; 5:11; 8:19; 9:10).
'withdrew His hand', He took back this promise (Ez. 20:22).
When Israel were
punished by the Babylonians, Ezra (9:13) realized that they
had not been punished proportionate to their sins.
40:2, again in the context of Israel's punishment by the
Babylonians, says that their judgment had been double what
it ought to have been; and yet Ezra says it was less
than the promised proportionate recompense for their sins.
Here we have the utter, inconsistent grace of God; almost
taking guilt for punishing them (cp. how God likewise takes
the blame in Is. 54:6-8, as if He had forsaken Israel as
a sweet innocent young wife). The way God restored double
to Job at the end has echoes of how a thief had to restore
double (Ex. 22:2-4)- as if God in His love for Job wished
to show Himself as having been somehow ‘guilty’ for taking
away from Job what He had?
God says He will punish someone for their sins after they
have had space for repentance, then He will.
Rev. 2:21,22 Jezebel was given space to repent but didn’t,
therefore judgment was pronounced; but even then, if
she repented, she wouldn’t be punished.
is simply the eagerness of God for human repentance.
wound of Israel was incurable- said Yahweh Himself (Jer.
All Judah would be destroyed
Israel were the branches
which were lopped off.
The fig tree would never
bear fruit (Mk. 11:14).
Yahweh healed the incurable (Jer. 30:17).
But the same chapter speaks
of a remnant that would not be (:14,28).
But they were to be grafted
back on to the living tree (Rom. 11)
But Israel will blossom and
bud and fill the earth with fruit (Is. 27:6); hence the
fig tree bearing fruit when it has been condemned never
to bear fruit is such a dramatic sign (Lk. 21:29,30.)
is the Bible paradox of God's love of Israel and desire
for their redemption.
This is an apparent horticultural
blunder. A dead, rejected branch can't get life by being
tied on to a living tree. But in the miracle of Israel's
latter day redemption, this is how it will be.
The Lord spoke His words
about Israel's future budding with full knowledge that He
(and several OT passages) had condemned her to eternal barrenness.
He knew, however, the paradox of grace.
promised that even if Israel sinned, He would never break
His covenant with them (Lev. 26:44; Jud. 2:1).
He did (Zech. 11:10 cp. Jer. 14:21), as witnessed by the
termination of the Law of Moses, which was the basis of
His covenant with Israel. His love creates yet another Bible
broke the covenant by their disobedience (Lev. 26:15; Dt.
31:16 and many others). God therefore broke His part of
the covenant. Yet God made His promises concerning the unbreakable
covenant because He chose to speak in words which did not
reflect His foreknowledge that Israel would sin. The apparent
contradiction is resolvable by realizing that God did not
set His mind upon Israel's future apostasy when He made
the 'unbreakable' covenant with them. And yet the paradox
still ultimately stands; that He broke His covenant with
them when they sinned. He worked through this punishment
in order to establish an even more gracious new covenant.
said He would not spare or pity Israel in pouring out His
judgments on them. He even warns them not to think that
He is merely threatening, giving yet another warning ("
the sounding again of the mountains" in echo), but
that He is deadly serious (Ez. 7:7, 4, 9; 5:11; 8:18; 9:10;
Jer. 13:14; 21:7).
God did pity Israel at the time of judging them (s.w. Ez.
36:21; Mal. 3:17,18).
(2:17) realized that God has the capacity, in His grace,
to change His stated purpose at the last minute, and therefore
he exhorts the priests to ask God to " spare"
them when He pours out His judgments; although He had said
that He would not do this.
Christ was fully like us, our representative and example,
an inspiration to us in our hour by hour battle with the
God will not let His Name
be polluted by His people (Is. 48:11; Ez. 20:9).
The orthodox idea of ransom
payment substitution is wrong. Christ didn't give His blood
to purchase us in a substitutionary sense.
Christ was God's son, He was more than a " mere man"
, He evidently had some " bias" (in the words
of Robert Roberts) towards righteousness which we don't
have (1) .
But God polluted His people
(Is. 47:6). They did pollute His Name (Jer. 34:16; Mal.
But to whom did Christ pay
the price of our redemption? Not to God (or else it would
have been substitution); not to the devil, as orthodoxy
manifestation in Christ was and is a " mystery"
(1 Tim. 3:16). Yet without doubt we are intended to take
comfort and inspiration from Christ's humanity; i.e. from
something we accept and believe, but which appears contradictory.
God invites us to see His
efforts to stop His Name being polluted as somehow defeated
by the extent of Israel's pollutions. This theme comes out
clearly in Ezekiel: they polluted Him, but He strove lest
His Name should be polluted. Here is the extent of freewill
which God gives man to sin- and also the extent of the hopefulness
of God. It's as if He didn't imagine they would pollute
Him as much as they did.
On one level, the atonement
can be logically explained. On another, it cannot be (2).
The veil, an eloquent symbol of the flesh of Jesus, was
made of mixed fibres, something which was otherwise forbidden
under the Law. This perhaps reflected how the Lord’s nature
and the atonement God wrought through Him was and is in
some ways contradictory, to human eyes.
On the Sabbath, the priests profaned the Sabbath.
“Whatsoever soul it be that
doeth any work [in the sabbath], the same soul will I destroy
from among his people” (Lev. 32:30)
work was to be done on the Sabbath.
But God in the prophets complains
that His people don’t keep the Sabbath. He
didn’t cut off the individuals as He threatened. Behold
the Bible paradox.
Lord (Mt. 12:5) said that the priests " profaned"
the Sabbath; He didn't say that because they kept the spirit
of it, that was O.K. By using a word as extreme as "
profaned" He seems to be even emphasizing the point.
This isn’t to say that God
says but doesn’t do. It’s just that His grace and patience
is beyond His law.
God imputes His righteousness to men; He counts them as
if they are righteous, even though they are not.
Thus He speaks of the reforms
of David, Hezekiah and Josiah as being so thorough when
in fact they overlooked basic things like the keeping of
tabernacles (Neh. 9:17)
righteousness and obedience is vital for salvation.
The keeping of the feasts
was a vital sign that a man was in covenant with God.
is by both obedience and by grace, whereby we are counted
as obedient even though we are not. God is so sensitive
to human effort to be spiritual that it seems He may exercise
His prerogative to overlook other failures; although there
are many examples of where a man spiritual in many ways
is rejected because he failed in just one other area (e.g.
God cannot be seen.
God speaks as if He died,
and therefore Israel was left as a widow (Is. 54:4,6).
God forgets our sins.
But God cannot die.
God can't by nature forget.
is quite possible to understand this as an Angelic manifestation.
But in keeping with what we are seeing of the 'inconsistency'
of God, could it not be that God did actually concede to
the humanity of Moses, and actually come down to earth and
let Moses see His back parts?
God wants to somehow save
Israel from the shame of the fact He divorced them for their
unfaithfulness. He goes to the extent of apparently denying
His very nature to do this.
He will insult His own nature
to show us the extent of His forgiveness. He can even limit
Scripture interprets Scripture. Yet this leads to the conclusion
that the beast in Revelation is a symbol of Arab opposition
to natural Israel in the last days.
The Bible is inspired by
God. Therefore every detail is correct and significant.
interprets Scripture. Yet this leads to the conclusion that
the beast in Revelation is a continuation of the Roman empire
in a religious form; i.e. it refers to the Catholic church
persecuting the believers throughout history.
Sometimes the Bible is very
vague. Under inspiration, Paul seems to have forgotten the
exact quotation, or to have been deliberately vague, when
he speaks of " one in a certain place testified"
(Heb. 2:6). There are times when the Spirit uses very approximate
numbers rather than exact (" about the space of four
hundred and fifty years" , Acts 13:20 cp. 1 Kings 6:1).
The reference to " seventy" in Judges 9:56 also
doesn't seem exact. Seven and a half years (2 Sam. 2:11)
becomes " seven years" (1 Kings 2:11); three months
and ten days (2 Chron. 36:9) becomes " three months"
(2 Kings 24:8). And 1 Kings 7:23 gives the circumference
of the laver as “thirty cubits”, although it was ten cubits
broad. Taking ‘pi’ to be 3.14, it is apparent that the circumference
would have been 31.4 cubits; but the Spirit says, summing
is hard to reconcile these two interpretations. Yet both
are Biblical. Bible-minded brethren just can't agree with
each other on prophecy. Why? There is no paradigm of thinking
which will draw them towards the same conclusions; the simple
fact is that God's sure word of prophecy can be taken more
than one way, although the subsequent interpretations appear
to be mutually contradictory.
Surely this is to show that
God is God, not man. His word is not contradictory, but
in ensuring this, God does not sink down to the level of
a man who wanted to write a faultless book, carefully ensuring
that every figure exactly tallied. He has a spiritual culture
much higher than this. And this is behind the many Bible
paradoxes which we meet.
These Bible paradoxes or 'inconsistencies' all have their 'explanations';
explanations which sometimes I have given. Yet all those 'explanations'
somehow lack the ring of truth; there is a sense of 'getting round'
the problem rather than satisfactorily explaining it. It has to
be said that bad feeling has often occurred amongst us over many
of the above contradictions. Brethren are convinced that their perspective
is the Biblical one, and they cannot understand how other brethren
can find Biblical support for an opposing idea. What I am suggesting
is that these kind of things simply cannot be resolved by any amount
of human words or reasoning, They are Divinely created Bible paradoxes,
and surely the key is to recognize them for what they are, to appreciate
our inability to reconcile them; and to learn an appropriate humility
in our dealings with our brethren, and above all with our God who
is so far beyond our comprehension.
Acceptance of our inability to resolve these inconsistencies
is surely what God wants. Yet acceptance is a concept increasingly
foreign to our age; every problem must have its resolution,
our understanding must be capable of comprehending everything
we come into contact with. We live with the sense that we are highly
logical, rational creatures. Yet we are far from logical in
spiritual terms. We have the peerless love of Christ behind us,
and the matchless hope of the eternal Kingdom in front of us. And
yet we sin, we are indifferent, we turn away from the glory of these
things, like Israel we effectively say that we don't want to hear.
Each sin is the utmost statement of our total illogicality. We know,
we perceive, we understand so much (relative to the man next to
us in the bus); yet we simply will not apply the majority of this
knowledge to our lives. We live under an illusion of logicality.
We are ultimately illogical creatures. Surely the purpose
of God's (apparent) inconsistency is to shatter our perception that
we are ultimately rational and logical. We are not. We need to learn
to accept that we have no sense of what is true logic;
God's reasoning, His logic, is not ours.
to me that God's word and His ways being stamped with this (apparent)
inconsistency is the greatest proof that God is God, that the Bible
is His word. Recently I was talking to a leading Russian mathematician
in a Moscow hotel. He said that his study of mathematics had taken
him outside the realm of the consistent and logical, and had persuaded
him not only that there is a God, but of man's smallness. We might
think maths is a logical, pure science. After all, 2 + 2 =4, not
4.1. or 5. Yet the closer you study it, the more you see a designed
inconsistency. As a 15 year old studying for my Maths O-level, I
struggled (and still do) with the idea that parallel lines
meet at infinity. If they are parallel at the start, surely they
are after 10 kilometres, and surely they are however far you go.
But no. Mathematically, they meet- at infinity. The acceptance
of this 'inconsistent' principle is at the root of a number of mathematical
formulae- without which (e.g.) man would never have got into space.
And so it is with God's self-revelation in the Bible paradoxes.
There is a designed inconsistency there which must be accepted,
just as there is in mathematics, which is in itself proof that God
is God, not a man; that He is there, in all His moral and intellectual
splendour and magnificence, and that His word to us is His word,
not man's word.
God's grace itself, His thirst for fellowship and relationship with us, is in itself beyond the legalism of 2 + 2 = 4. Grace isn't like that. Even within God's own law, there are indications of God's ultimate flexibility, His willingness to weight the ultimate algorithm of Divine judgmnent of sin in our favour- simply because He loves us and wants us. The command "You shall not kill" in Ex. 20:13 must be understood in the context of a situation where the same Law also commanded certain sinners to be put to death within the community, and at times Israel were Divinely commanded and enabled to kill others outside of the community. We have to look, therefore, for a more specific meaning for this commandment- and it seems it is speaking specifically of blood revenge, killing the person who murdered one of your relatives. According to Num. 35:25-28, if the murder was unintentional, i.e. manslaughter rather than murder, then the person could flee to a city of refuge lest he be slain by the avenger of blood. There is no guidance for the avenger of blood in these 'cities of refuge' passages; rather is there the assumption that he might well attempt to take revenge even for manslaughter, and in this case the unintentional murderer should flee from him into a city of refuge.But clearly enough, this was not God's will- for "You shall not kill". But such is God's grace that He built into His law a recognition that His people would fail. This isn't what we would expect of a 2+2=4 God, where broken commandments are to be punished and period. In this case, we see here a tacit recognition even within the Mosaic Law that the commandments- in this case "You shall not kill"- wouldn't always be obeyed, and therefore extra legislating was added to enable this situation to be coped with. This isn't only an example of God's sensitivity to human sin and weakness of hot blood [although it is that]. It's an insight into how the very structure of His law is such that He understands human weakness, and is eager to ensure that it hurts others as little as possible. No more human 'god' would have dreamed this up. This grace has the stamp of the ultimately Divine, and any attempt to understand it within the frames of literalistic, legalistic analysis are doomed to failure.
Perhaps we should leave it there. But I am repeatedly (and I mean
repeatedly) asked the following questions by newly baptized brethren
1. God says He is a God of love, that He wants to save men. Yet
so many live and die without being given even the chance of knowing
His plan. According to the Bible, they will stay dead with no
2. Babies and young children die, including those of believers.
According to the Biblical principles of resurrection, judgment
and the need for baptism, they will remain dead. Yet how can we
reconcile this with a sensitive God of love?
3. The Bible teaches that we should separate from those who leave
the Faith or teach false doctrine. But some Christians won't do
that. So in order to separate from those who are in the wrong,
we also have to separate from those who are more or less believing
what we believe, but who won't separate from what is wrong. Surely
it's wrong not to break bread with those who are also in the one
body of Christ? Yet it's also very wrong to allow the yeast (leaven)
of false doctrine into the body; this means separating from those
who let themselves be influenced by it.
All these are fair questions. No answer is completely satisfactory.
Because of our refusal to accept the apparent inconsistency of God,
we can be driven to unBiblical doctrines; e.g. that there will be
a 'second chance'. Or we end up making assumptions (e.g. this child
died because knew ultimately it wouldn't accept the Faith) which
are pure guesswork and almost an insult to God's omnipotence. We
simply must not throw away our understanding of basic Bible doctrine;
nor must we lose our appreciation of the love and grace of God.
The only way- to my mind- to cope with these questions
is through appreciating the principle of the inconsistency of God;
to recognize the need for acceptance of what appears humanly
impossible to understand. The grace of God, our redemption through
the death of a perfect man...these things can be understood,
on one level (and they can be misunderstood, too). Because there
is so much misunderstanding, we have rightly given emphasis
to what the correct understanding should be. But ultimately,
in fundamental essence, the issues of the atonement and the saving
grace of God are beyond us. Sometimes God seems to play on this
fact, in that He makes statements which are evidently paradoxical.
Thus Jer. 30:16 says that He would punish Israel for their sins
at the hand of their invaders, and therefore these invaders
would themselves be destroyed. God's love for Israel is such that
even in their guilt He still avenges them. And the only way to really
explain such love is to use Bible paradoxes and apparent contradiction.
The issue of fellowship is an especially vexing Bible paradox.
We are commanded that we must preserve the unity of the one body
of Christ, and fellowship within it. Yet to fellowship with error
is serious indeed; Israel were condemned because they allowed those
outside the covenant to partake of the sacrifices which symbolised
their covenant with God (cp. the breaking of bread; 2 Chron. 23:19;
Is. 26:2; Ez. 44:7 cp. Rev. 22:14). The problem is that we can't
tell who exactly is in the body of Christ. It is true, both Biblically
and from the Christian experience, that if we take a 'soft' attitude
to fellowship, reasoning that we must accept anyone into fellowship,
then we will end up losing any concept of Biblical, Christ-centred
fellowship. We know there is one body, but there are invisible limits
to it. In this lies the problem. Therefore if we say 'I will fellowship
anyone, because I have a Biblical duty to do so', we will end up
fellowshipping with anyone who is willing to fellowship with us.
And the yeast of false doctrine and immoral behaviour will inevitably
affect us, so that we lose the Faith. Yet if we focus instead on
the Scriptures that teach we must separate from false teachers,
we end up needing to also separate from those who tolerate false
teachers, without themselves being apostate. And so we will very
easily get into a mind-set which results in endless subdivision
and hunting out of false teachers and those willing to tolerate
them. Anglo-Saxon Christians have agonized, really agonized, over
this issue. It cannot be denied that we must separate from that
which is false. The Gospel is fundamentally a call to separation,
a deliverance from what is false, as Israel were delivered from
Egypt. In some sense, our redemption, our eternal destiny, depends
upon this. Yet our salvation also depends upon showing the softness,
the love, the patience, which we will stand in need of at the judgment.
For as we judge, so will we be judged. The attitude of the Lord
Jesus towards us in that day will be proportionate to our attitude
towards our brethren in this brief life.
The balance between these two 'columns' of Bible paradoxes is hard
indeed. It seems that in the Lord Jesus alone we see the perfect
fusion of " grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14); in Him alone
mercy and truth met together, in His personality alone righteousness
and peace kissed each other (in the words of the beautiful Messianic
prophecy of Ps. 85:10). Somehow it seems that we both individually
and collectively cannot achieve this. We are either too soft and
compromise and lose the Faith, or we are too hard and lose the spirit
of Christ our Lord, without which we are " none of his"
(Rom. 8:9). The result of this is that whenever the Truth is revived,
that community is in a sense born to roll downhill; after two or
three generations the Truth is lost. Either they destroy themselves
through bitter subdivision, or they compromise with error and lose
the Faith. Perhaps it is God's plan that no one community should
hold the Faith through many generations; perhaps this is one explanation
of the paradox within Bible teaching about fellowship. But perhaps
the 'contradiction' is there to teach us - or try to teach us- the
need for us to rise up to the challenge of showing " grace
and truth" in our thinking and judging, even though we cannot
fully achieve it; to realize our tragic inability in this, to recognize
that within our limited nature this must be an unsolveable paradox.
And thereby we should be led to appreciate more the beauty and the
wonder of the way in which these two concepts are linked together
in the Father and His Son, and to yearn more to perceive and enter
into the glory of God's Name, which totally incorporates these two
humanly opposed aspects (Ex. 34:6,7; Rom. 11:22).
(1) " It is sufficient
to believe that Christ was the word made flesh, that according to
the flesh He was the seed of David...these are the fruit-producing
facts of the case. They are inducive to reverence, love and comfort.
But when we are asked to define " how" as a matter of
literal, scientific, metaphysical process this dayspring from on
high hath visited us, we are at once in the region of the incomprehensible...for
not only can we not know, but even if we could, it would be of no
practical value. It is not the comprehension of Divine modes,
but the doing of His will that commends us to God. We cannot
know the Divine modes of working...we believe Jesus was God manifest
in the flesh; we know not how; by the Spirit truly...but this does
not define the process, which is incomprehensible to man" (Robert
Roberts, Seasons Of Comfort, 1915 ed., p.213).
(2) William Barclay also
notes and discusses the unresolved contradictions surrounding the
NT use of the Greek word lutron / ransom payment (New