Sunday, February 20, 2011

The limitations of man

What analogy can I use to adequately convey the problem mankind has with the Secret Will of God?  I do not mean the lazy tendency to say "I don't know it now so it's impossible to know" I mean the class of knowledge God has not revealed to us.  The genuine secret will.
It's like an airplane runway- ignore the one track to set down on and you will end up breaking the plane.  It's like driving in the Fresno fog- you have to roll down the window and look at the line closest to you to keep going straight and avoid being lost and crashing. It's like Le-Guins book Wizard of Earthsea when the fictional character Ged talks with dragon- everything the dragon says whether lie or truth, sounds like truth, and so unless he is careful to remember what he knows he will lose his wits as every lie gets reflected as truth.  It's like a train conductor able to see the landscape but unable to leave the tracks without ruin. It's like an infant on the beach who can walk on the sand of revealed will, or into the waters of the secret will a little so long as their feet are on the sand and the water isn't deep, but go further and drown.  
Luther warns us of trying to build our conclusions, lives, and actions on the secret will when he says things like "Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and ... know nothing but the word of God." Similarly Alistair Begg is always saying "the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things."
It seems to me by experience and observation that man is a limited creature fundamentally incapable of making sense of the secret will of God, even when he knows what it is.  We must at all times tethered to the revealed will of God because He has not equipped us to make sense of the secret will.  He wasn't made with the facility for it.  Ever have someone ask you how could it be God's plan to take away their child, and have no response for it?  How can you, it would require you to understand the secret will.  Most people daring enough to answer this will use the Revealed will in the Bible to bring the grieving person comfort.
But my intention is to apply this more abstractly.  Take as proof these three ideas.

1. The Trinity
We know from as far back as Genesis 1:26 that God is three persons, but we don't know why or how Christ can be the eternally generated Son. Or how they can be one, unity, and eternally distinct.  Speculation is futile at best, and harmful at worst because God has simply not told us.  We simply have no basis for evaluating the darkness before us.

2. God's love for the non-elect
Is it the will of God that all men be saved?  Yes, (1 Tim 2:4) this is a rule for our own life- we should we evangelize, be kind to our brothers and neighbors and love them because God has told us He loves men.  But now consider how false conclusions appear true when working from the secret will.  Since God has the power to accomplish all His desires (Isa 46:10), and everyone is not saved, we know it's the secret will of God that some people are fitted as vessels for wrath. Therefore we must be careful not to evangelize, not to love them, or pray for their salvation lest we run afoul of Gods will, but we should instead trick them into committing more sins to make them a fitter vessel for wrath. Incidentally the hyper-calvinist certainly would agree with this conclusion: with unmixed fury God hates the non-elect.  It's only the moderate Calvinist who is careful not to trespass this boundary who is spared from this dilemma.

3. The Extent of the Atonement
Did Christ die for sinful men on the cross?  Yes, the revealed will tells us He dies for sins (1 Peter 3:18), of the unrighteous (Rom 5:8).  We can therefore infer that He died for all sinners, or all men, since He died as our representative, in our place.  Did He die only for the elect?  Here we are left with no answer but the secret will, which is unusable to us, because the conclusions it demands are intolerable. It would mean that we must first figure out if we were one He died for before putting faith in Him.  The hyper-calvinists will once again assert it is good only for the elect, but how do they know this without an appeal to the hidden things? I don't mean to say that Christ does not love His sheep with a special and profound love, I mean to say how can you be certain to know Christ has no value your whole life and cannot have value to you? 

Man was created with an utter and total dependence on the revealed word. In light of our weakness God has given us only what we need, in the Bible, that is to say, the revealed will- it's therefore critical to be very circumspect on making conclusions based on the secret will.  The division seems not just between two types of knowledge, but on the difference between food and poison.  It ought to drive us to humility.

PS: I recognize that the thoughtful reader will demand that my entire post be based on the revealed will, or I will have run afoul of the very thing I speak against, thus invalidating my own argument.  Therefore, see Deut 29:29.


Derek Ashton said...


You have put into writing some things I have never sorted out well enough to extract from my head. I've been thinking along a similar track lately, that the doctrine of election is sometimes used like a "dye" that colors all other doctrines, rather than being taken as one ray among many - and the many rays taken together create the purest white light.

Some people want to say, "since God elected some, He can't love all ... Christ couldn't have died for all ... we shouldn't bother to preach to everyone, etc." I want to say, "maybe YOU can't, but He can. This is God we're talking about - do you think He is as limited as you and I are?"

Phil said...

Yes, it seems to me as well we impose our limitations on God to our own detriment. Thanks Derek