When God Seems Far Away (Nye)

Distant God: Why He Feels Far Away...And What We Can Do About It by [Chris Nye] I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the book Distant God by Chris Nye. I was interested in the topic and the preview of the book made it sound worthwhile so I gave it a shot.  I’m glad I did!  Although I don’t agree with everything in it, overall it’s a pretty helpful book on the topic of God seeming to be far away.  This is something Christians think about quite a bit: what it means to be near to God, to feel his presence, to enjoy his close fellowship.  Nye does a pretty good job discussing this theme in Distant God.

One part of the book that I thought was helpful was where Nye discussed the reality that God is everywhere (omnipresent); we cannot escape his presence (Ps. 139).  Sometimes God does manifest his presence in a more specific way, as in the burning bush and ultimately in his Son (Immanuel, God with us). But when we talk about God being far off, Nye argues, it has to do with our fellowship or relationship to God: “This aspect of being with God in relationship is really what most of us mean when we talk about God’s proximity” (p. 58; emphasis his).   Therefore, although God is with us and will never leave us (facts!), sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s with us because there’s something amiss in the relationship.

I don’t have time or space to discuss the rest of the book, but Nye does go on to mention how prayer and obedience are related to us sensing the nearness of God. When we don’t talk to our spouse for weeks, the relationship suffers.  Similarly, if we don’t often talk to God in prayer, the relationship suffers and it’s difficult to feel his nearness because we’re not calling on him.  Likewise, if we disobey God and ignore his word, it will negatively affect our relationship with him.  We can’t expect to feel God’s loving presence if we’re not listening to him as he speaks to us in his word.  “Our actions toward God are tied to our intimacy with God” (p. 67; emphasis his).  Nye then takes time to explain how to strengthen our relationship with God through faith, prayer, and obedience (among other things).

Anyway, I could go on, but just let me say this book is worth reading if you want to wrestle more with the feeling or sense that God is distant.  This book was quite helpful for me, even though I didn’t agree with everything in it. I appreciated how Nye kept pointing readers to Christ, to the Bible, to prayer, and to Christain obedience.

Chris Nye, Distant God (Chicago: Moody, 2016).

(Note: I received this book for review purposes and was not compelled to write a positive review.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

A Common Reformed Sin: Intellectual Pride

 Reformed theology is robustly biblical and it echoes the truths of Scripture so very well and clearly.  I’m not Reformed because it’s cool or because I grew up that way.  I believe Reformed truths like God’s sovereignty, total depravity, definite atonement, presbyterian ecclesiology, infant baptism, and the regulative principle of worship because they’re rooted in Scripture.  I want to be part of the historic Christian church that has submitted to and followed God’s word.

Reformed and Calvinistic Christians and churches, however, are not perfect. [I’m far from perfect!]  One major blemish found in Reformed and Calvinistic circles is the sin of intellectual pride.  Or it might be called doctrinal pride.  This is when someone who is well-versed in Reformed doctrine lets it go to his or her head.  This person becomes a self-proclaimed expert theologian who begins to look down on others who do not know as much doctrine or who have “inferior” doctrine. Sometimes this kind of person can even become unteachable and very critical of and impatient with other Christians and their views.  It’s even worse when someone who is self-taught gives himself an honorary doctorate in theology!

By contrast, the person who lives a truly Reformed life with a Reformed heart and mind will not be arrogant, but extremely humble and patient.  One essential aspect of Reformed theology is that our sovereign God alone deserves all the glory, honor, and praise and that people are finite, sinful, and completely dependent upon him in every way.  No one who is Reformed or Calvinistic should be doctrinally arrogant at all!

Petrus Van Mastricht (d. 1706) made an excellent point on intellectual humility when he applied the doctrine of God’s omniscience (omniscience is the fact that God knows all things in a divine way that is far, far beyond our understanding).  Here’s a slightly edited excerpt:

[The doctrine of divine omniscience] offers us an argument for being humbled by a comparison of our ignorance and folly with the infinite knowledge and wisdom of God, after the example of Asaph (Ps. 73:22) and Agur (Prov. 30:2-4).

…Here, therefore, what will more effectively batter down our arrogance than to think how much there is that we do not know, especially when we compare our superficial wisdom with the abyss of God’s knowledge and wisdom? What will more effectively invite us to humility?

God instills this humility (Jer. 9:23), teaching us

1) To think that God is most wise since he is the one who made us wiser than brute beasts (Job 35:11).
2) To exclaim to ourselves, ‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you brag as if you did not receive it?’ (1 Cor. 4:7).
3) To take what you have freely received above others and to render it to God with submissive gratitude, and in that way ‘to cast down thoughts and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.’ (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) To think about God’s dreadful judgment upon the arrogance of worldly wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19-20).

Again, it’s worth noting that Reformed and Calvinistic Christians are sinful like other Christians. And sometimes we Reformed Christians don’t live out the theology we believe and confess. Sometimes we believe a doctrine but do not apply it to ourselves and live accordingly.  May God help us live out the theology we believe and confess with humility, patience, and a strong desire to see his name be glorified – not ours!

The above quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 272-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

The Aim of God’s Wisdom (VanMastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God Paul’s well-known doxology in Romans 11 mentions the deep (βάθος) wisdom of God (σοφίας…θεοῦ).  In his excellent discussion of God’s wisdom, Peter Van Mastricht (d. 1706) listed eight “aims” of God’s wisdom that Scripture teaches.

Van Mastricth wrote that the wisdom of God is chiefly occupied and concerned…

  1. With the counsels, decrees, predestination, election, and reprobation of God, to which points the text’s exclamation, ‘O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom…!”
  2. With the works of creation, conservation, and governance, concerning which the psalmist says, “In wisdom you made them all” (Ps. 104:24; 136:5.
  3. Especially with the formation of man, the microcosm [little cosmos] (Ps. 139:14-15).
  4. With the uniting and ordering of creatures so different from each other, because of which he is called the God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33), who does all things in their own time and measure (Ecc. 3:11).
  5. Especially in the marvelous work of redemption through the Son and Holy Spirit, because of which the Savior is not only named the wisdom and power of God (1 Cor. 1:24), but also called the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10) into which even angels long to look (1 Peter 1:12).
  6. In the mysteries of the Christian faith, which the apostle calls the wisdom of God, distinguished from the wisdom of this world (1 Cor. 2:6).
  7. In the gathering and defending of his church against the most cunning attacks of so many and such great enemies, whom by his wisdom he time and again catches in their own scheming (Ps. 59:12; 10:2).
  8. In his most wise direction and governance particular to individual believers.

In other words, God’s wisdom is not an impractical dogma for us to dissect.  Wisdom is an attribute of God that has to do with his decree(s).  Furthermore, God’s wisdom is also evident in creation, providence, salvation, and our own preservation.  And this all brings him glory.  Therefore, when we think about the depth of God’s wisdom, it makes us praise and adore him!

The above very slightly edited quote is found in Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol. 2, p. 262-3.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54002

 

No One Will Remember You! (Guinness)

carpe diem cover image

We probably don’t think about it too much, but there is such a thing as an unbiblical and unchristian view of time and history. False religions often have erroneous views. For example, Mormonism teaches that matter is eternal. Many Eastern religions teach reincarnation. And so forth. However, Scripture teaches that God,who is not bound by time, created all things out of nothing. Time has a beginning. History has meaning and is moving forward. God is in total control of it all. He has a purpose and a goal for this world. And so on.

Speaking of time, Os Guinness’ 2019 publication Carpe Diem Redeemed is a great discussion of time and history from a solidly Christian perspective. Here are two paragraphs I marked up – they’re good ones to encourage you to get and read this book!

We are simply not at the center of existence. We will not always be here, and the universe will go on without us as if we had never been here. Most people never hear of us even while we are hear, and all too soon it will be as if we had never been here at all. For almost all but the tiniest handful of us, the day will come when there is no trace uof us in the living memory of the earth. Thus for all our sense of significance, whether modest or inflated, we are all, as the Greeks said, ‘mortals.’ In the words of a Roman epitaph, ‘As I, so you, so everyone.’ Or as the Bible states simply, ‘You are dust, and to dust you will return.’

…Our human challenge is to make the most of our time on earth and to know how to do it.

…Seizing the day, making the most of life, and understanding the meaning of life are inseparable. All three require that if we are to master time, we must come to know the author of time, the meaning of time, and come to know the part he calls us to play in his grand story, which makes the deepest overall sense of time and history. Even more, wonder of wonders, we are then invited to live lives that align our individual hopes and destinies with the very purpose and destiny of the universe itself.

Os Guinness, Carpe Diem Redeemed, from the introduction.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Theology Is An Eminenty Practical Affair (Vanhoozer)

Christian doctrine is not an end in itself. In other words, the Christian doesn’t learn doctrinal truths just to learn doctrinal truths and brag that he knows quite a bit of doctrine. Instead, Christian doctrine helps the Christian live for God; it helps him or her live a life that pleases God. I appreciate how Kevin Vanhoozer explained this in the intro to his 2019 publication, Hearers and Doers:

Discipleship has never been a cakewalk. To follow the cruciform way of Jesus is to wander in the wilderness, as Israel did for forty years, a precursor of Jesus’ own forty-day desert trial. There are streams in the desert, to be sure, but no rose gardens. Yet the church is upward bound because its members’ citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). If we keep in mind Augustine’s image of the church as the city of God, then theology – the teaching that undergirds living for God as his city – is part and parcel of the Christian’s civic responsibility. Theology teaches how to live the good life in light of the good news to the glory of the God alone who is good (Mark 10:18).

The Puritan theologian William Ames defines theology more as ‘that good life whereby we live to God than as that happy life whereby we live to ourselves.’ Of course, the truly happy life – blessedness – is the good life lived unto God, in friendship and fellowship with the blessed Trinity (1 John 4:13-16). The crucial point is that theology is an eminently practical affair, more ‘living with’ than ‘writing about’ God.

Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, p. xix-xx.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Explaining Our Knowledge of God (Letham)

  Here’s a helpful section of Robert Letham’s new Systematic Theology.  It has to do with the nature of our knowledge of and language about God.

Our knowledge of God is not univocal, identical to his in manner or content.  If it were, it would yield a precise identity between God’s knowledge and ours.  His knowledge of this or that, from 2×2=4 to more complex realities, would  not differ in principle from the way we know things.  This would be rationalism.  It would erode the Creator-creature distinction.  God transcends his creation.

Conversely, neither is our knowledge of God or creation, in relation to God’s knowledge, to be understood as equivocal, in principle totally different.  If it were, there would be no correspondence between our knowledge of God’s knowledge, and unbridgeable gap between God and ourselves.  We could not know God at all, nor know his creation accurately.

Instead, our knowledge of God is analogical, with both a correspondence and a difference between our knowledge of God and who he is in himself, between our knowledge of this or that created entity and God’s knowledge of the same entity.  This is based on the biblical revelation that God is the infinite Creator, knowing all things instantaneously and comprehensively, and we are his creatures, yet made in his image for partnership, with a correspondence between him and us….

This is of monumental importance.  It affects the way we interpret the Bible.  God speaks to us in ways we can understand.  His revelation is true.  He reveals himself in a manner that we can grasp, like a father speaking to his young child.  Yet the reality transcends the revelation….

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 62-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The “Beneficent Propensity” of God (Van Mastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God The goodness, kindness, mercy, and love of God are major themes in all parts of Holy Scripture.  It’s always one of my favorite parts of theological reading when I come across good explanations of God’s goodness and love that are very much based on Scripture.  In volume two of his Theoretical-Practical Theology  Petrus Van Mastricht wrote an excellent section on the love, grace, mercy, long-suffering, and clemency of God.  After doing some exegetical work on Exodus 34:6 (…The LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth [CSB]), Van Mastricht discussed in detail what these terms mean and how they apply to the Christian life.  Here are some quotes that I really appreciate.  I’ve edited the layout to make it easier to read:

…There is in God a certain benevolent and beneficent propensity toward his creatures….

That propensity is called benevolent when considered intrinsically and beneficent when considered extrinsically.

In itself generally considered it is love;
insofar as it is independent, free, and is not owed, it is grace;
insofar as it considers the creature as miserable, it is mercy;
insofar as it considers the offending sinner whom it endures, it is patience;
insofar as it endures him a long time, it is long-suffering;
insofar as it also does good to him, it is clemency and beneficence.

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol 2., p 348-349.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015