How Open Theism Helps Us Conceal Our Hidden Idolatries by John Piper

Open theism may help conceal deep idolatry in the soul. One of the great needs of our souls is to know if we treasure anything on earth more than we treasure Christ. Treasuring anyone or anything more than Christ is idolatry. Paul said in Colossians 3:5, „Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . covetousness, which is idolatry.” If covetousness is idolatry, then desiring earthly things more than we desire God is idolatry. That means we must be more satisfied in Christ and his wisdom than we are in all our relationships and accomplishments and possessions on earth.Now how does Open Theism help us conceal from ourselves the idolatries in our souls. It ascribes ultimate causality for many calamities and evils to Satan or the autonomous will of man, not finally to the all-disposing counsel and wisdom of God above and behind Satan. For example, Greg Boyd says:

When an individual inflicts pain on another individual, I do not think we can go looking for „the purpose of God” in the event. . . . I know Christians frequently speak about ‘the purpose of God’ in the midst of a tragedy caused by someone else. . . . But this I regard to simply be a piously confused way of thinking (Letters from a Skeptic [Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994], p. 47).

Similarly, John Sanders writes:

God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil. . . . When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. The rape and dismemberment of a young girl is pointless evil. The accident that caused the death of my brother was a tragedy. God does not have a specific purpose in mind for these occurrences (The God Who Risks [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998], p. 262).

If not „the purpose of God,” what then is ultimate? Either man’s will which is ultimately „self-determining” and can even surprise God (as Open Theists believe), or the will of an evil spirit which is also ultimately „self-determining.” For example, after admitting that „God can sometimes use the evil wills of personal beings, human or divine, to his own ends,” Boyd then says, „This by no means entails that there is a divine will behind every activity of an evil spirit” (God at War [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997], p. 154, cf. 57, 141). „A self-determining, supremely evil being rules the world” (p. 54). „The ultimate reason behind all evil in the world is found in Satan, not God” (p. 54, my italics).

How does this worldview help us conceal the idolatry of our soul? It works like this. Open Theism denies that God is the final, purposive disposer of all things (Job 2:10; Amos 3:6; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11). Therefore it asserts that God’s wisdom does not hold final sway (Rom. 11:33-36), and thus God is not fulfilling a plan for our good in all our miseries (Jeremiah 29:11; 32:40). Open Theism implies, therefore, that we should not think about the wisdom of God’s purpose in causing or permitting our calamities. In other words, Open Theism discourages us from asking what sanctifying purpose God may have in ordaining that our misery come about.

But in reality our pain and losses are always a test of how much we treasure the all-wise, all-governing God in comparison to what we have lost. We see this merciful testing of God throughout the Scriptures. For example, in Deuteronomy 8:3 Moses said, „And [God] humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In other words, God ordains the hard times („he . . . let you hunger”) to see if good times are our god. Do we love bread, or do we love God? Do we treasure God and trust his good purposes in pain, or do we love his gifts more, and get angry when he takes them away?

We see this testing in Psalm 66:10-12, „For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water.” And we see it in the life of Paul. When he prayed for his thorn in the flesh to be taken away Christ told him what the purpose of the pain was. „Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness'” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). The test for Paul was: Will you value the magnifying of Christ’s power more than a pain-free life?

We see this testing in 1 Peter 1:6-7, „In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” God ordains trials to refine our faith and prove that we really trust his wisdom and grace and power, when hard times come. Similarly in James 1:2-3, „Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. . . . Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” Do we love God? That is the point of the test. Do we cherish him and the merciful wisdom of his painful purposes, more than we cherish pain-free lives? That is the point of God’s testing.

Our trials reveal the measure of our affection for this earth – both its good things and bad things. Our troubles expose our latent idolatry.

For those who believe that God rules purposefully and wisely over all things, our response to loss is a signal of how much idolatry is in our souls. Do we really treasure what we have lost more than God and his wisdom? If we find ourselves excessively angry or resentful or bitter, it may well show that we love God less that what we lost. This is a very precious discovery, because it enables us to repent and seek to cherish Christ as we ought, rather than being deceived into thinking all is well.

But Open Theism denies that God always has a wise purpose in our calamities („God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurrence of evil”), and so it obscures the test of our idolatrous hearts. Open Theism does not encourage us to see or savor the merciful designs of God in our pain. It teaches that there is either no design or that the design of the evil done against us is ultimately owing to Satan or evil men („The ultimate reason behind all evil in the world is found in Satan, not God”).

Therefore, we may be so angry with Satan and with evil people (which is legitimate up to a point), that we fail to ask whether our anger reflects an excessive attachment to what we just lost. But if, contrary to Open Theism, we must reckon with the fact that God’s wisdom is the ultimate reason we lost our treasure, then we will be forced to do the very valuable act of testing our hearts to see if we loved something on earth more than the wisdom of God.

All of life is meant to be lived to reflect the infinite value of Christ (Philippians 1:20). We show his infinite worth by treasuring him above all things and all persons. Believing in his all-ruling, all-wise sovereignty helps reveal our idolatries in times of pain and loss. Not believing that God has a wise purpose for every event helps conceal our idolatries. Thus Open Theism, against all its conscious designs, tends to undermine a means of grace that our deceptive hearts need.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Don Carson preaching at the Chinese Conference in Los Angeles (2 sessions)

The Good Samaritan

The Rich Man and Lazarus

These 2 sermons are from October 26-28, 2012: held in Los Angeles, CA- Chinese Conference sponsored by Kernel of Wheat Ministries. The text is in

Luke 16:19 The Rich Man and Lazarus. Carson: How shall we understand this story? Is Jesus saying that there is always a simple reversal?-

  • live life well, end in hell
  • suffer pain, enjoy great gain
  • if you’re happy here, you’ll be miserable there
  • if you’re miserable here, you’ll be happy there

d a carsona simple reversal? Now, clearly, there is some kind of reversal here. But, so much of Scripture stands against any notion that there’s always reversal. For example, in Scripture, there are at least some Godly rich people. Think of Abraham, Job, Esther, at least in his early days, Solomon, Philemon, probably Theophilus. Moreover, there are at least some poor who are wicked. The Bible is very compassionate against those who are poor through no fault of their own. And, especially compassionate towards those who are poor because they are oppressed. But, the Book of Proverbs can also consider some poor, who are poor because they’re lazy. The sarcasm drips off the page.

Moreover, one has to integrate this passage with the rest of the Gospel of Luke. All four Gospels, including Luke are rushing towards the cross. If our eternal destiny is founded on the simple reversal theme, we don’t need the cross, all we need is poverty. (That is why) it is important to read our passage within the context. (5:02)…

What is the very essence of idolatry?

Obviously, it’s possible to serve two masters, if neither one is asking for absolute control. But, where there are competing interests, only one can win. And, the particular application Jesus makes here is you cannot serve both God and money. Of course He could have made other applications: You cannot serve both God and power, you cannot serve both God and sex. Now, in all three cases- money, power and sex- there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. Money can be very useful and do a lot of good. Power, rightly exercised can be reforming. And sex, within its God ordained constraints is everywhere pictured as a good gift. But, even a good thing becomes a bad thing, that (eventually) becomes the supreme thing. That is the very essence of idolatry. For idolatry, you don’t necessarily have to follow a bad thing. All you have to do is make a good thing the supreme thing.

That’s why elsewhere Paul says covetousness is idolatry. Because when you covet something, that’s what you want the most, so that becomes God for you. But Jesus tells us that you cannot have 2 masters. If God is God you cannot most want money. What we most want is what we most fantasize about, what we daydream about, what we thing about. So the task becomes very clear: You cannot serve both God and anything else.

Pharisaism

In verses 14-15, we find Jesus addressing the Pharisees directly. The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. When it says that they sneered Him, almost certainly, they were sneering at him because they had money and He didn’t. So, among themselves, they were saying something like this: „Well, Jesus, you’re just some poor, itinerant preacher from Galilee. You don’t have money, so you don’t understand. We could be very Godly with our money,” they would say. „We tithe. We give alms for the poor. We can follow God and be rich. Don’t you see, that’s what we are?” They’re sneering at him. But, Jesus doesn’t back down. He says, in verse 15, „You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.

In biblical justification, God justifies the ungodly on the basis of what Christ has done. But, in self justification, we justify ourselves on the basis of what we do. To be quite frank, sometime, when we are formally thanking God for graces that we’ve received, our motivations are so complex that at the same time we are patting ourselves on the back for having them. And, instead of seeing that we should be people that are constantly asking God for His grace, we become people who are quietly self congratulating ourselves. That’s what’s going on in this text.

These Pharisees are justifying themselves in front of others, in the context of talking about money, then they’re saying things like this, „God must like me quite a lot, because he’s blessed me with quite a lot of money.” And so, when they came up to a spotlight in their brand new chariot, and came up to someone who was driving just a broken down donkey, they would not actually say, „I’m better than they are.” But, deep down, when the light changed and they took off in their chariot, they knew that they were better. It’s so easy when you have money to begin to rank yourself, as compared with others, on the basis of how much you’ve got. Now, let me insist again. There are Godly men in scripture with money like Job, for example. So, if you’re a job, you don’t need this comment I’m about to make.

But, if you are not a Job, I warn you that having a lot of money is so easily away of justifying yourself in front of others who have less. You develop a ranking system in the church- not on the basis of Godliness or evangelistic fervor, but, on the basis of money. What does Jesus say about that? Verse 15- „what people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” Now you see, it’s not the money God detests. He detests the money when people value the money so much as to make the money God. When they start to justify themselves on the basis of their money, then God detests it. Once again, we discover that the context is talking quite a lot about money.

The idolatry of possessions

At the end of chapter 15- The Parable of the Prodigal Son- (in which) a prodigal wastes His father’s possessions. Then at the beginning of chapter 16 – a dishonest servant wastes his master’s possession. Now, in the story of ‘the rich man and Lazarus‘, a rich man wastes his own possessions. In fact, we’re in a part of Luke’s Gospel where there’s a lot of emphasis on the idolatry of possessions. But, in principle, once again I must remind you that you could tell a very similar story  if you made sex your god, or if you made power your god, or if you made beauty your god, or if you made being a hunk your god. But here, the focus is on money. (18:30) There are still 40 minutes left of this message, which you can watch below. Uploaded by
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Is Technology Neutral? via The Gospel Coalition

Mike Cosper over at The Gospel Coalition comments on the (non) neutrality of technology and the power it can hold over us:

Sometimes, Christians with a sympathetic view of culture (like myself) have a tendency to treat it all–including technology–as though it were neutral, but this isn’t the case. Like all of creation, the technological world bears witness to God’s glory and goodness with its undoubted helpfulness, its moments of beauty, and its occasional ability to inspire awe. But also like all of creation, it bears the stain and destructive power of sin, introducing us to whole new ways to destroy relationships, disrupt our lives, and distract from the glory we were created to behold. click here to read the rest of this article…

then, in looking over some old emails I came across this snippet from ‘Doghouse Diaries’ that characterizes the power technology holds over us in a light hearted way:

Siri

click image to see in full size at source

 
for those of us who have not seen a working iPhone (seeing a display model doesn’t count), Siri is an iPhone application that you can ask a question of and it will answer you back audibly. This comic strip above shows a frustrated Siri answering back  in a humorous, but threatening way. Truth be told, all technology can have a seriously negative side effect if it becomes addictive, in essence, if it becomes an ‘IDOL’.

Ex 20:3-4 (NIV) „You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”

„An idol has such a controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.”
-Counterfeit Gods
Tim Keller

 A.W. Tozer: „Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. He calls them to suffer; we call them to enjoy all the bourgeois comforts modern civilization affords. He calls them to self-abnegation and death; we call them to spread out like green bay trees or perchance even to become stars in a pitiful fifth-rate religious zodiac.”

Tim Keller – The Gospel and Idolatry – Acts 19:23-41

From the Gospel Coalition 2009 National Conference, Tim Keller (Session 1) delivers his „The Grand Demythologizer: The Gospel and Idolatry – Acts 19:23-41” presentation.
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