Human’s Responsibility in God’s Theatre

Behold The Man

Until I read Genesis 20:4-6, Paul conclusion in Philippians 2:12-13 had continuously baffled me. Commending unity that can only be achieved through humility in the church in Philippi, Paul asked Philippians to learn not to do anything out of selfish ambition, but in humility consider others more significant.

Making his point clearer, Paul beseeched the Philippians to follow Christ Jesus’ example. According to Paul, Jesus was in the form of God, but did not hold to his majesty. In humbleness and for the sake of those who God called and draw to him, emptied himself taking the form of a human being, and went even further through  a hideous death and rose to glory for their sake. (2:1-11)

From that, Paul concluded that Philippians, in his absence, were to “work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [them], both to will and to work for his good pleasure”(2:12b-13 ESV) doing all things without grumbling or disputing.

How was it possible for Philippians to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, if it is God who works in them both to will and work for God’s own good pleasure? If God works in them to will and work, how then are Philippians said to will and to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling? Does not God’s working in Philippians’ will and work somehow negate Philippians responsibility to work out their own salvation?

In a theatrical account of Abimelech, Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 20 my bafflement like a vapor disappeared. In this account, Abraham found himself in the Egypt-like déjà vu (Gen. 12:10-20) where because of his wife’s dazzling beauty, his life was in danger. In fear that men without fear of God will kill him to have her, Abraham said, for the second time, that his wife was his sister. Abimelech king of Gerar took Sarah but did not sleep with her.  The drama then unfolds:

But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. (v3-6 ESV)

God recognized that Abimelech did not sleep with Sarah in integrity of his heart and clarified that Abimelech’s will and working out not to lay with Sarah was so because He worked in him, namely God kept Abimelech from sinning against Him. God did not let Abimelech sleep with his new mistress Sarah.

Philippians, like Abimelech, are called to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, yet it is God who works in their willing and working for His own good pleasure. The working out of salvation with fear and trembling is possible because they are in God’s theatre.

12 thoughts on “Human’s Responsibility in God’s Theatre

  1. Pingback: God’s Interventions: Keeps from Sin until Decision Point | BibleOpia Blog

  2. Prayson Daniel, I really appreciate the time you take to answer and explain your beliefs. Trust me when I say that I also understand your point of view, I have been there. It also seems that we have read the same books in the past (Bell and C.S. Lewis). Lewis has been one of my favorite authors and I have read several books by him. The John 14:15 verse that you used sounds like Jesus was saying how humans, not God, can prove that they love him by obeying his commandments. Human love is conditional, but I believe we are called to love unconditionally, like God does (“forgive 70 x 7″, “turn the other cheek”, “be perfect as my Father is perfect”). Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers are full of strict laws and rules to try to maintain a chaotic group of people under control in the middle of the desert. So fearing God’s wrath was the perfect scenario to use to ensure complete obedience although it still did not work all the time.
    What would you say will happen to the souls who have never heard of the Gospel? Will God still punish them forever? Have you read other Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas? Thank you for the link, I will try to find it in Amazon and read it. Peace.

    • Noel, I take joy in answering and explain what I believe to be true.

      Yes, I have read other gospels. Paul explained that there none with excuse (Romans 1). I believe God is righteous in his judgment and thus what happens to souls that have never heard of the Gospel is solely up to his sovereign will and pleasure to do what God does.

      Your case, that Jesus was saying how humans, not God can prove that they love him, would have some weight if that would the only place He made that case. Let’s explore Jesus’ if-then conditional statement, similar to John 12:15 Noel:

      Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.(John 14:23 ESV)

      “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:8-10, ESV)

      1. If anyone loves me, then he will keep my word
      2. If anyone keep my word, then my Father will love him
      3. If you keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s, then you will abide in my love, just as I abide in my Father’s

      1-2 does not tell us much, since it would be denying the antecedent, if one say: If I do not keep Jesus word, then God will not love me. 3 though answers your case since Jesus argued that He also kept the Father’s commandment and thus abide in Father’s love. Logos(Jesus) though He was in the form of God(Phil 2:5-11) lower himself as he obeyed his Father and accomplished the work that the Father gave Him to do.(John 17) Jesus said: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.”(John 10:17)

      Noel, Israel story is the Church’s story plus much more. Moses and Jesus, a Lamb for the Freedom, Passover and Lord Supper, crossing the red sea and baptism, from Egyptians bondage and from Sin bondage, into the desert and into secular desert etc.

      Is God love unconditional? This depend on what we mean by unconditional since the Bible tells us the following:

      Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal;
      there I began to hate them.
      Because of the wickedness of their deeds
      I will drive them out of my house.
      I will love them no more;
      all their princes are rebels. (Hosea 9:15 See also Leviticus 20:23, Psalm 5:5)

      We ought not forget that God is love and much much more (righteous, holy, and just)

      • Prayson Daniel, I admire your dedication and strong faith. If you feel at peace with your current belief, I applaud you and encourage you to continue with your life as it is. I am not like you, though. I strongly feel I need to grow even more, not just within what today’s Christian church teaches me. I wonder what your thoughts are about some of my posts (i.e. “Carl and Alfred: A Tale of Two Extremes”) and the page “The Spiritual Sphere” in my blog http://www.livingthekingdom.wordpress.com. Anyways, keep up the good work and remember: God’s ways are not our ways. ;-)

  3. So Abimelec’s integrity was actually God working through him? It was not Abimelec’s doing but God’s alone? If so, then Abimelec was not responsible for refraining from sinning by sleeping with Sarah, but it was all God working. Was Abimelec then having any free will to make the decision to not sleep with Sarah or was he just a vehicle through which God performed in “God’s theatre ” ? And why did God tell him “you are a dead man” first; did God change His mind about punishing Him?

    • Thank you Noel for rising two awesome questions that I was hoping my readers would pause so I can expound more. Did Abimelech have free will to sleep or not to sleep(libertarian freewill) with Sarah? And if not, why the warning to be punished?

      I do not think Abimelech had libertarian freewill in a way the he could choose and acted of his choice to sleep with Sarah because God said He did not let Abimelech touch Sarah. If God did not let Abimelech sleep with Sarah, and God is sovereign, then it was impossible for Abimelech, had he have chose to sleep with his newly mistress, to act upon his choice. It is for this reason, among many, that I find compatibilisic view of freewill Biblical, namely human freely choose x or not-x according to their greatest desire at a given time t.

      In Abimelech’s situation, it is possible that God in His theatre created states of affairs that built Abimelech’s integrity that would make Abimelech freely choose according to his greatest desire not to sleep with Sarah.

      Why the warning then? Warning, that God used to put fear in Abimelech, is a means to God works His goals. Example in Jeremiah 32:40 ” I [God] will make with them[His chosen nation] an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.”(ESV). In this passage God made a promise to Israel to be with them and the warnings(which produces fear) is a way to which He will keep them.

      Charles H. Spurgeon made a similar case in his exposition sermon on warning passage in Hebrews 6:4-6(March 23, 1856). He wrote,

      First, O Christian, it[“if’s” in the warnings] is put in to keep thee from falling away. God preserves his children from falling away; but he keeps them by the use of means; and one of these is, the terrors of the law, showing them what would happen if they were to fall away. There is a deep precipice: what is the best way to keep any one from going down there? Why, to tell him that if he did he would inevitably be dashed to pieces. In some old castle there is a deep cellar, where there is a vast amount of fixed air and gas, which would kill anybody who went down. What does the guide say? ‘If you go down you will never come up alive.’ Who thinks of going down? The very fact of the guide telling us what the consequences would be, keeps us from it. Our friend puts away from us a cup of arsenic; he does not want us to drink it, but he says, ‘If you drink it, it will kill you.’ Does he suppose for a moment that we should drink it. No; he tells us the consequences, and he is sure we will not do it.

      It is my hope Noel, that I at least began answering your questions. Would you like me to expound more?

      • Prayson Daniel, thanks for your answer. I am trying to clarify here: so when you wrote “I find the compatibilisic view of freewill Biblical, namely human freely choose x or not-x according to their greatest desire at a given time t.” did you mean that the “free will” that we have are still within God’s control? I sometimes think of the analogy of the author of a book writing about different characters in a story who make different decisions among themselves, but still under the control of the author’s idea. The characters don’t know what will happen at the end of the story, but the author knows, the same way we don’t know the future but God does. The book’s characters have “free will’ by choosing what they will do in each chapter, but the author ultimately puts those decisions in their minds. The same way the author knows what happens from the beginning to the end of the book, God knows the beginning and the end of our lives. I am not sure if this is also your thinking.
        However, I still have some reflections regarding the following: if God’s is sovereign and graceful, then why does he put “fear on us”? Should we love him back for fear of burning in hell if we don’t? If so, then it would not be love. Or should we love him back because he is graceful, loving, and forgiving? And don’t we love him back by loving each other through service? I am not sure if my questions make sense. I believe that God’s grace is so great that we humans cannot comprehend it. We humans tend to put characteristics on God which are truly based on human’s limited understanding of how societies should function. We illustrate God according to our image, not the other way around. So when today’s churches teach about fearing God, avoiding hell, and strictly following a certain doctrine, it reflects what we humans have learned to do so that we can keep order on earth (human laws, paying fees, going to jail for disobeying, etc), not of how God truly is. “My ways are not your ways” is what the Bible indicated God said to us. Then why limit God to what we humans think would work in this world?

      • Another wonderful question Noel. I am unwilling, or dare not, think of God in control as an author of a book who decide how his characters would turn out. If you meant that our “free will” is within God’s control in a sense that God knows given x states of affair Jane will freely choose y , then yes. The view of free will I hold is that of Jonathan Edward’s, namely we choose x or not-x according to our greatest desire at a given t.

        Noel, a correct understanding of Biblical fear of God helps understand why God but fear in believers. With unbeliever the fear of God has to do with eternal separation from God(Hebrews 10:31; Luke 12:5) but this is not so for believer. Fear of God is more of a reverence of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 expounded this awesomely: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ’God is a consuming fire.’”

        Moreover a true fear is a good think. Example when you travel to third world countries, you are warn not to drink tap water, or when swimming in sharks territory, you are warned. This produces fear for your own good. That is why Jesus warn that it is better to lose some part of your body that cost you to sin, than end up in hell. False fear is manipulation but true fear is not.

        Churches have throughout its history taught about fearing God, avoiding hell, and strictly following a certain doctrine(teaching), not because of what it has learned to do keep order on earth but because that is what Christ Jesus did. Example Jesus said; “I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”(Luke 12:5) and that by all cost avoid hell, and do follow what he has commanded. Yes, most churches have abuse it, but abuse does not remove use.

        God is love, and His love is holy, righteous, and pure that He cannot and will not overlook evil. It was that reason that Christ live, died, and rose again, taking the evil of all that God the Father draws to Him. At the Cross, divine justice and love, kiss each other. All are judged and all will be judged, but to us that are in Christ, our judgement Christ fully paid.

        Pop-Christianity tend to forget or erase the fact that those who are not in Christ, when they die or Christ return, will experience the presence of God’s righteous and holy wrath poured in full strength going forth like fire and sulfur, burning with none to quench it, in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb (Jeremiah 4:4 Rev. 14:10).

  4. I always appreciate the way you search out answers to your questions. In this particular story, I’m unable to distance myself from the reality of the on-the-ground situation and the callousness of God and Abimelech talking about Sarah. She is treated as property, and her forceful kidnapping seems to God to be something she should be grateful for, since she wasn’t raped as well. I’m sure she suffered much trauma, but her ravaged life is not a concern here – only whether or not Abimelech was technically correct in kidnapping her based on facts known.

    Is it ever a problem, while reading holy texts, to gather the intended meaning of spiritual enlightenment without letting details get in the way like this? How do you work through this, and continue to use the Bible as a resource, when shocking tales might cause you to lose respect for the authors’ perspective, or maybe only just that sometimes it’s depressing to read this stuff?

    • Wonderful questions Crystal that are worthy answering. Many accounts in the Bible, mostly the Old Testament, are hard to take. I had problem with mostly two accounts. The first was Lot offering his two virgin daughters to be gang raped in place of his two men visitors Lot (Genesis 19:1-11)[ later his two daughter made him drank and slept with their own father (19:30-38)].

      The second was similar but even worst account in book of Judges 19:1-30 where a Levite(priest) and his host offered in the place the Levite, the Levite’s concubine and the host’s virgin daughter to the men of Gibeah who surrounded their home wanting to gang rape the Levite. The concubine was offered and was gang raped all night until morning. When the Levite discovered in the morning that his concubine was dead, he took a knife and divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces and sent them around the tribes of Israel.

      The author of the Judge wrote “And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”(Judges 19:30) and concluded his book: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”(21:25 ESV)

      How do I work through these, and continue to use the Bible as a resource? First Crystal, I take the Bible as what it is. A collection of books that recorded how God dealt with Israel. Reading the Bible in its proper context helped me resolve some, not all, of the problem. Example, your concern of Sarah is real as you read 21st century’s Western values into the account. Second, I try not to import my Western values into Ancient culture. If you learn the Ancient Near East culture and values, you will begin to understand how things worked then. Example Sarah’s act of giving her servant maid to sleep with Abraham seems a cultural shock to our Western understand. As someone who want to understand, I try to read these accounts in their proper context.

      Remember, simply because an account is recorded in the Bible does not mean God approved the act. Actually some acts show that it is because human want to be their own gods,that is why such things happen.

      I hope I began answering your question Crystal.

      • “God is love, and His love is holy, righteous, and pure….”
        “…those who are not in Christ, when they die or Christ return, will experience the presence of God’s righteous and holy wrath poured in full strength going forth like fire and sulfur, burning with none to quench it, in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb”
        These two statements clearly contradict each other. Does God love me so much that, if I don’t accept his love, then we will pour his wrath in full strength like fire and sulfur, burning eternally in hell? What kind of love is this? Only a conditional love would do this, not a pure one.

      • You ask hard and wonderful questions Noel. I was tempted to answer: “God’s ways are not your ways”. ;)

        It prima facie seems to be a contradiction but not. I totally understand your position. Rob Bell, for example, has a similar problem. He contended, rather paused rhetorical questions, in Love Wins: “Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (2011, 2) and “God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy—unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story, right?” (2011, 64), to which he believed that the answers are “No”.

        Pure love is conditional Noel. Example Jesus contended: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15, ESV) echoing Leviticus 26 which verses 1-13 explained the blessing in loving God, while 14-44 explain what happens if they do not. These accounts are multiple in Old Testament which show what God’s blessing and curses is. (Read Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers)

        In John 3:15-16, and 35-36, John presented both truths, God so love the fallen world that He gave, yet “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36, ESV)

        Paul explained that God loved and chose(1 Thess. 1:4) yet 1:10 Jesus live, dead and rose raised to deliver/save “us from the wrath to come”. On that day, for those who heard the Gospel and so what God was doing, yet chose Him not, as Jesus explained, “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.(Matthew 10:15, 11:24)

        Sadly pop-Christianity do not have a place or failed to understand or worst try to erase, the fact that sinners store “up wrath for [themselves] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works(Rom. 2:5-6)” and that sinners in Christ are “now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!” (Romans 5:9). John the Baptists warning: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?”(Luke 3:7 NIV) seems foreign for pop-Christianity have an incomplete understanding of God.

        C. S. Lewis speaking on moral law and justice of God, in Mere Christianity, correctly concluded: “God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger–according the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”( 2001, 30-31.)

        N. T. Wright awesomely put it clear: “Face it: to deny God’s wrath is, at bottom, to deny God’s love.”( “The Word of the Cross” Sermon: Sung Eucharist with the Blessing of Oils and Renewal of Ordination Vows Durham Cathedral, Maundy Thursday, 5 April 2007)

        Noel, we do not define what God’s love is, but let God’s words define it for us, after all, “God’s ways are not our ways”(failed into my temptation :) )

        Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D. A. Carson
        (Free PDF from Amazon</em>), held me alot to understand how the Bible speaks of God’s love. It is ca. 80 pages long but hopeful will begin in you the search to rediscover God’s love.

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