Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Arrival, Humanity, and Jesus

I recently rented Arrival (a worthy movie about aliens coming to Earth to communicate with us) and was immediately struck by the forcefulness and clarity with which it teaches us about Jesus' humanity. In fact I don't think I've ever seen such a perfect demonstration of why Jesus needed to set aside His prerogatives of deity if He were to be a true man.

The movie isn’t about Him mind you, it’s about aliens, so let me give you some background information in case you haven’t watched it yet. The aliens appear out of nowhere as if by magic, waiting for us to come speak with them so that in the future they can ask a favor of us. The problem? They don’t speak like we do, and after the we figure out to try writing to them, our top experts are dismayed to find out that aliens write holistically. That is, their ideas don’t really have progression or movement to them, they just are. Whereas our ideas develop with each sentence, theirs are all one unit, and if you are to understand it you must grasp all that is being said at the same time. Worse, they don’t experience time as a series of linear events like we do, to them time is always now. Oh they make a distinction between events happening at this moment and events still to come, to be sure, but they possess knowledge of the future now.

It’s a side-effect their language, by the way. Thinking in it they gives them the ability to see into the future (and spoiler alert: humans who learn their language pick up this ability to see into any point of their future too.) Imagine writing a sentence a sentence with two hands. The left hand starts at the left side of the page and works as normal, and the right hand starts on the right side of the page and works backwards toward the middle. If you knew exactly what you wanted to say, the spacing between the words and letters, you could master it with some practice. But how would you master knowing what to write before knowing what to say? By going back to a time where the letter was already written and copying it, that’s how.

Pretty neat eh? It’s the end of needing to learn things, or practicing to get good at something. By using the alien language and jumping into a point in the future after you’ve learned anything, you can pull that knowledge back into the past and equip yourself with it. Imagine two year old violin virtuosos, or six year old chess-masters. It's also the end of needing to grow, because whenever you wanted to you could simply throw yourself into the slip stream, pull out the abilities, and use them perfectly from the beginning. There is a bit of a problem of course in seeing everything in the future as the eternal now, because there’s no way to focus on what’s in front of you (in addition to the impossible paradoxes it creates). But set aside those paradoxes for a moment and consider the question, “what would life be like if we could do that?” If we could go outside our rigid swim lanes and pierce the veil of future? Traveling backwards instantly creates paradoxes and confusion, but what if it didn't?

This is what convinced so forcefully me of why Jesus needed to voluntarily limit His abilities while on Earth--if He didn't He wouldn't be one of us. The problem is compounded for Jesus because not only would He be pulling information, abilities, and knowledge from the future, He would be pulling it from His infinite deity. He therefore would not merely have perfect knowledge about His future, He would have perfect knowledge about everything. Likewise, had He used this power He would not merely be seeing events of His future, He would be seeing everything as God does. But Luke says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) which means time progressed forward for Him as it does for us. He had to learn to use His hands, to walk, to recognize the animals and shapes He invented before He stepped into human flesh. He wasn’t born knowing how to speak because He didn’t draw that knowledge from the future.

I’m convinced this is also the key to understanding confusing passages like Mark 13:32, “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” If you’re wondering why Jesus (who is God) doesn’t know the same things God, it’s because He’s chosen for His time on Earth to live as one of us. He’ll know only what He learns, and unless God teaches Him, He’s not going to avail Himself of those abilities lest He cease to experience life as a man. Were He to pull knowledge from His divinity He would cease to sympathize with us poor creatures who push against the unknown future at the rate of once per second. Now the time will come when He won’t need to limit His power in that way—specifically when He acts as a judge to bring history to an end (see the book of Revelation)—but while on Earth being a man like us was absolutely essential. (For more on this, see Heidelberg questions 35 and 36)

It also explains some other confusing passages, things like John 5 when He says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth Him all things that Himself doeth… I can of Mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and My judgment is just; because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me.” Why does it look like Jesus is saying the Son is not only subordinate to the Father in office, but in essence? Or to put it another way, how can that be if the Son is also fully God, maker of heaven and Earth? Simple: He’s voluntarily setting aside use of these abilities. He’s receiving revelation just like how God revealed things to Peter (Matt 16:17), or Simeon (Luke 2:26), or any other prophet. While on earth He received His revelation the same as everyone (from the Father) for “All things are delivered to me of my Father” (Luke 10:22), and was forced to fight off the Devil in the wilderness with the Scripture alone just as we would have.

He’s still God of course, which is why He didn’t correct the disciples when they worshiped (John 20:29). But while on Earth He took the form of a bond-servant, and was like us in all things except with regards to sin.

And if all that is true, then it means time itself is linear, and we will never be able to step outside of it or go backwards through it. I suspect this is because time is nothing more than the physical manifestation of God’s decree that He should have increasing glory for Himself. The decree that He would always have more glory than before creates the concept of time. But that is, as they say, for another post. In the meantime, go watch the movie. It's pretty good.

A Review of Disney’s Cinderella (2015)

Considering the movie grossed over half a billion dollars, I may be the last person on earth to have seen this film, but I just watched it, and all I could think of was “Wow, I can’t believe what I just witnessed.”  Cinderella was an astonishingly pleasant movie from start to finish and it held incredibly tightly to what I consider to be traditional Christianity. No less impressive is the fact that it came out of a company normally known for their friendliness to social justice warriors and hostility to traditional morality.

If you’ve grown up on the fairy tale (and who hasn’t?) then you’ll know why it’s such a beloved story. But as impressive as the base story is, the twists and clean up job Disney did on it is even more impressive. It’s one thing to paint your wicked mom as worse than a Nazi in a three hundred word bedtime tale, it’s another to make it into a successful live action movie. For the second you do, everybody watching immediately thinks, “how could any human being, even an evil one, be so relentlessly cruel to such a charming and disarming ray of sunshine as Ella?” And, “Demonic hatred is impossible to hide, so why would a semi-intelligent man who didn’t need the money like Ella’s father marry such a hateful woman?” And, “Why would a prince who is accustomed to doing his duty skip out on marrying a beautiful princess in favor of a semi-pretty servant girl and potentially cost himself the throne?” And you have to address this.

The answer to all of these problems was to construct a society that is ruthless and opportunistic to the core. The people who live in this place at this time have little (or no) regard for the feelings or well-being of others; instead, they always do what’s to their advantage, no matter what. Thus if a woman can get ahead socially or financially by reducing her step-daughter to servitude, she will. If a prince can get a better army for the Kingdom with an advantageous marriage, he will. From top to bottom people do what benefits them most. In fact this kind of exchange where people are always potential tools or useful objects tends to kill a consideration for people as people, and make them more like sociopaths.

You can easily imagine this kind of popular idea taking hold of a society and playing itself out over the course of a generation. Crime and Punishment deals with this very era in recent human history in fact—that there’s a class of men who are above such things as morals, who are “supermen” who are unencumbered with things like consciences, and can therefore move the world. That was a very popular notion not even a hundred years ago, which makes it a very reasonable premise to build an imaginary world on.

But in Cinderella’s universe, like our own, the idea falls apart after a generation. The prince, who was raised to be ruthless, also had a natural affection for his father, and was taught to be prudent and considerate as a part of statesmanship and international politics. So while he knows it would be in his interest to kill his father and assume the throne, he also knows that other kingdoms will view him as untrustworthy and treacherous if he were to do that. Consequently, he’s torn, and he resolves this tension by pulling away from the idea of cruelty for cruelty’s sake. Yes, this means he is in rebellion against his father, but whereas every other movie teaches us to rebel against our parents for the sake of rebellion, this one subverts the trope by teaches us to rebel against evil, in proper measure, in a just way, while still honoring your parents.

So the prince has a vague notion that things could be better, although he doesn’t know how exactly, and he doesn’t know anything else. Cue Cinderella, the bedrock whom this perverse society couldn’t crush or convert. As the Prince is struggling with this vague sense of unease he happens to meet the one woman who rejects their values, and who chooses to build her life on the virtues of courage and kindness. In so doing she becomes the catalyst for a whole new paradigm in his mind, and suddenly he realizes that a kingdom thrives not when everyone seeks to get ahead at the expense of someone else, as if life is a zero-sum game, but when the people do what is right and good. Trust is the foundation of a thriving society, not power expressed as suffering.

The prince chooses Cinderella because he wants the beauty she brings to his life, that piece he felt he’s missed all this time. And in another blow for traditional morality, he’s a man, a take charge, alpha, get what he wants man. But a good man. As Alan Jackson sung, he’s a small town southern man. He’s after Cinderella as a partner (as opposed to a slave) because he’s a dynamic, humble character who genuinely loves and appreciates the joy she brings to his world. Her rise to Queen hits a lot harder for this.

Speaking of “rise to queen”: part of the story dwells on the Disney princess element to pander to every girl’s fantasy of wearing a pretty dress to the admiration and being the envy of many beautiful women. Part of this story also involves CG magic pumpkins. Disney does all of this well enough, and I won’t knock it because it’s part of the warp and woof of this adventure. I’m going to skip all that in this review however because what I really enjoy about a movie is the art of it and the message it tells, not the escapism it offers.

Meanwhile the old king is dying, and knows that despite his best efforts he has failed to pass on his ruthlessness to his son. His son has instead rebelled against him, and not just him, but the very thing that holds them all together as a people. The Prince and his cohort are not simply bad at it, they refuse to play the game at all. The old king knows that without that win-at-any-cost mentality the kingdom will be doomed, but what can he do? It’s too late.

Yet in the climactic scene of the movie the old king realizes what Cinderella has done to his son and forgives. He realizes the prince does have a vision for the kingdom, and that the new prince can make it better, and that his fears are now assuaged. The next generation may not be cruel, but they will be just, and they will be good, and that will work. And in seeing this the audience realizes the heroine has not only broken through to the prince who was receptive to her, but to the King who wasn’t. In her own story arc Cinderella confronts her step-mother who has no answer as to why she must always be cruel except to shrug and appeal to the way they’ve always done things, which she roundly rejects. In the end her serenity wins and she and the prince ride off to a happily ever after. The viewer is assured that everyone in the new society will be pierced by the message moving forward, and that Cinderella will remain beautiful and uncorrupted through all that remains to come.

Wow. The movie was clever, traditional, and surprisingly deep. The actors and actresses had enough to pull it all off, but the really impressive thing was the core values of this movie. Our family will be buying this one.

Piper, "Grace", and Baptists, a Follow-on

But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and sanctification – both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.

In a previous post I argued that salvation by faith plus works is nothing more than salvation by works, and that the moment we mix in a measure of human works we’ve forfeited divine grace, for the Scripture says, “If by grace then it is no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace” and “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed,” (Rom 11:6, 10:11). There is then no such thing as final salvation, because if there were it would mean there’s no such thing as initial salvation. Those who are justified have passed from death to life, as the Scriptures say, “who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom 8:33).

This also means (as Greg Morse and John Piper seem to deny) that salvation cannot initially be by faith first and then faith plus works later, for as Paul plainly says, “This only would I learn of you, received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Gal 3:2-3). If we’re saved by faith alone, then it’s by faith alone we’re saved.

Having gotten that off my chest I thought I’d begin to feel better, but as it turns out I didn’t. I saw a second glaring mistake in the word grace, and the more I thought about Piper's use of the word as "God's acceptance of my works in Him" the more unhappy I became. So let me once again affirm what the Scripture says--this time with regards to grace--and at the same time offer my two cents on why Reformed Baptists generally fall on the side of defending Piper's statement.

Some Theological Street Cred

I grew up Pelagian, so I know firsthand just how Biblical even the largest of errors can look when you're mixed up. And let me make an aside here: if you’ve never encountered a Pelagian in person then you may not be as ready to debate them as you think you are. Pelagianism is slippery, like an eel; like Karl Barth. It uses all the right words and so has every trapping of orthodoxy, but it means different things by the words, and so is deadly as a ninja. Growing up we believed we were saved by grace, but grace meant God was nice enough to hand down a ladder to climb up to Him with, not that it was His sovereign work from first to last. We confessed the need to be born again, but that meant being baptized, not being regenerated. We believed in being saved by faith alone, but faith meant faith plus works. And it wasn’t until I became convinced that the Bible used the word justified to mean “declare righteous” rather than “to become righteous” as we had used it, that the jig was up and I realized I had been sold a bill of goods.

My problem was that, without realizing it, I’d inherited an orthodox vocabulary and a heterodox worldview hiding behind it. I had a set of preconceptions lying beneath the surface that looked clean from outside but was polluted if seen from the inside. It was like an iceberg—the part that’s visible looks okay, but the part underwater is the deadly bit. What Jesus had said of the Pharisees being “whitewashed tombs” applied equally well to me, and I realized that precision of language matters a great deal.

To a much less deadly extent I’ve seen this same dynamic play out with Piper on his comments with his comment of salvation by fruits. The Baptist doesn’t see anything wrong with it while the Reformed see everything wrong with it. Why? Because although the words look the same their meanings diverge sharply depending on where you stand. Both the Reformed and Piper say "grace", but the two mean very different things by it. The fastest way I can explain this is to discuss the fundamental theological differences, so bear with me for a moment as we take a detour.

Reformed vs Baptist

The Reformed understand grace as an objective thing, as extra nos. From this they conclude that faith is not something man does in salvation, but the instrument by which he lays hold of the obedience and sacrifice of Christ. Faith is the stick that allows you to roast your campfire marshmallow, the spoon that enables you to eat your Yoplait yogurt (curse you for that conical shaped monstrosity, Yoplait), and really, it’s pretty incidental by comparison to Christ. Christ is what matters. Christ’s work, Christ’s obedience, and Christ’s sovereign grace dispensed by the one true king of the universe are what saves. Grace brings to mind the objective work of Christ, not how the individual believer feels about it.

In contrast to this (and by that I mean it’s been my experience and observation) that Baptists see faith as the inward thing which saves and must be stressed. Yes, Baptists also believe we are saved by grace through faith, but they put the stress on the subjective faith rather than the objective grace. The Baptist believes that faith matters. Faith must be guarded, grown, carefully cultivated, for faith unites us to Christ, and faith is what God has invited us to do. Merely telling someone about grace is a good way to leave that person unsaved, the person needs to know they must put their trust in Christ.

Both agree on the necessity of both, but if one has to be stressed uniquely, the Baptist thinks it should be faith. To the Baptist it’s important to conclude service by inviting people to faith, while to the Reformed what matters is attending to the means of grace, thank you very much. And these two worldviews run along completely different fault lines for everything. To the Reformed, baptism is God’s pledge toward us (and should include infants); to the Baptist, it’s our pledge toward God and should only be done by sincere adults. To the Reformed, the church is those gathered together; to the Baptist it’s only those inwardly, invisibly gathered. To the Baptist, grace lifts us up; to the Reformed graces reaches down. The one is subjective, the other objective. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Thus, when Piper says, “You are saved when God reviews your works and signs off on them” the Reformed hear, “Christ’s perfect works imputed to your account isn’t enough, you must do good works to earn your salvation” while the Baptist hears, “lay hold of holiness now that you’re mature just as you did earlier when you were a new convert.” Because the Baptist has been conditioned to think in terms of doing what God has commanded, he doesn’t find a problem with such language, but because the Reformed begin from a different starting point they immediately roll up their sleeves and prepare to throw the heresy card down on the table.

Grace that isn’t Grace

Now to the point: Desiring God appears to be saying that although our salvation hangs on us presenting our fruits before God, the good news is that God has promised ahead of time to graciously accept them as they are. Just so I’m clear, Piper is not saying that a man has to generate his own fruits to be saved. Nor is he saying that someone who has been justified will fail to enter into heaven. Nor is he saying that God will fail to produce fruit in the life of an elect man or woman. Instead, he’s saying that grace means the bar of what God finds acceptable is lowered enough to include my works. Or if you like, in Christ my works are sanctified and raised up high enough that God can judge me successful and I can be let in.

This is so awful and clumsy that I want to requote the statement and add the word lolz to the end of it so everyone can appreciate what clownish, vagrant theology sounds like. Grace means a perfect God promises everyone will pass the test if we but do our best? Honestly, even the Roman Catholic church with her doctrine of purgatory is better than this, for at least it affirms God is holy and we are not. A subjective, simplified grace such as this is a neutered grace, a weak and sorry grace. Whatever else it is, it isn't Biblical grace.

That’s why I’m going to close this post with a description of what real grace is in order to prove my point: our salvation is bound up in the merits of Christ, gifted to our account by the Holy Spirit after He reconfigured our hearts to trust it; as it is written, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The God-Man bore the hellish wrath of His Father as He hung dying on a cross that I, of all people might live. That is grace. It is not about me, for I am nothing. As Solomon said, “I know that whatsoever God doeth it shall be forever: nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it, and God doeth it that men should fear before Him,” (Ecc 3:14). Real, pure, authentic grace hits like a howitzer.

Yes, Another Post Script:

I know I took some serious shots at you Baptists here (and there) and I hope it hasn’t come off as unloving or uncharitable. I do think it needs to be said, for I believe the gap between Reformed theology and Baptist theology is as wide as Objective vs Subjective, and only one can be right. I also think that righteousness as Extra Nos must be defended at all points without apology. God help us to search out and believe what He actually meant. Amen.

Piper, "Final Salvation" and Reformed Baptists

Sometimes blogging is idyllic, like drifting down a river on a raft, and sometimes it’s consuming, like the burden of prophecy that the Old Testament saints were forced to carry (Amos 3:8), and woe to me, Piper’s latest comments about the necessity of good works in salvation has taken me out of the former state of mind and put me into the latter. Fortunately my task is made easier by the fact that there’s already been a great deal said about the topic, (much of it written by Brad Mason), but seeing as there still seems to be something missing, I intend to supply the deficiency in this post.

In saying that however I want to make it clear that I have no interest echoing what some others have said when they’ve gone on record with, “Piper is saying things which aren’t Reformed!” because Piper isn’t Reformed. He holds to no confession and therefore it shouldn’t surprise us when he says something Roman Catholic like 'we're saved by final justification.' So I won’t say that. Instead, my point comes from the alarmingly stout defense I’ve been seeing the Reformed Baptists putting up on behalf of the following statement:

But what about being saved by faith alone? You’re not. You’re justified through faith alone. Final salvation comes through justification and salvation – both initiated and sustained by God’s grace.

When I asked my Reformed Baptist friends what final salvation meant they told me that because union with Christ brings with it every saving blessing (including final perseverance), there’s a difference between salvation which is begun by monergistic regeneration and a salvation involving personal effort. Hence the distinction between initial and final salvation.

Now I may not have the sharpest intellect, out there but that hasn’t stopped me from figuring out over the course of my life that certain follow-on words can, by their proximity to the initial words, cancel out their meaning entirely. If you apologize to your spouse and use the word but then the apology no longer counts—everything before the but gets erased. “I’m sorry, but this is your fault” is equivalent to “this is your fault” not “I’m sorry.” The Scriptures even use this principle to glorious effect when they say things like “With man it is impossible to be saved” or “you were dead in your sins and trespasses,” and then turn around and negate the whole thing with a “but God.”

Salvation operates on that same cancellation principle. If you believe you’re saved by the work of Christ alone plus anything else then you’re no longer saved by Christ alone. If you believe in worshiping Jesus plus Baal then eventually Elijah is going to show up on Mt. Carmel and rebuke you for not worshiping Jesus at all. The Apostle Paul once viewed salvation as God’s work plus his own work, but after coming face to face with the living God he realized that those things of his didn’t add to the sum total, they subtracted from it. Whatever he thought was credit he found to be debit. We can’t be saved by faith plus works because works is a negative quantity, and whenever you add it to faith the result is something less than faith. The only way to make the equation balance is to reduce the human works to zero. Mix chocolate ice cream with dog poop and you get something less than chocolate ice cream. Grace plus works is simply works sans grace.

You can see where this is going. Adding the phrase final salvation to the equation doesn’t actually add anything to salvation, it only cancels out initial part of it—and this by definition. Because either initial salvation was the real, indestructible, once-for-all eternal life Jesus promised or it wasn’t. Either we really have passed from death to life when God declared us to be righteous now and forever or we didn’t receive the declaration and the jury is still out. To take a human example, either your marriage vows made at the altar were valid or they weren’t. Either you’re pregnant or you’re not. If you defend the idea of a final salvation then you have necessarily abandoned the idea of an initial salvation altogether. Only one of those words can be attached to salvation and you have to decide which one it is.

Therefore the Desiring God press release is inane on the face of it. It's not merely unhelpful, it's incoherent.

Now having said that I do praise Piper for making it clear just how offensive and stupid the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone really is. Putting it this way really does help to show that the thing is frankly ludicrous. Or perhaps the correct word is ridiculous in that it’s worthy of ridicule. It’s clearly a doctrine for children and the incompetent, for helpless beggars who can’t seem to manage the first tenant of holiness for themselves.
“You mean to tell me I’m given eternal life as soon as I believe, and will pass from condemnation into son-ship with only a hearty trust in God?”
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. As it is written, “Then said they unto Him, ‘what shall we do, that we might work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom he hath sent.’” (John 6:28-29) and “the just shall live by faith.” (Incidentally that one got said four times in Scripture, and I’m big believer that if God said it even once we should be paying attention, if He said it four times then there’s no excuse for not believing it.)
Salvation is by faith alone because only by faith alone can the wretched, helpless tax collector who has nothing to offer be saved. That man goes down to his house justified, and as the Scripture says, justified means “peace with God” (Rom 5:1), not "potential peace."
“Well I don’t like that,” says the Pharisee. “I like the idea of a final salvation better than an initial one. I think the idea of initial salvation is stupid given that if we don’t kill our sin we won’t get into heaven.”
Yes, justification by faith alone is a stupid doctrine. It’s exactly as humiliating and stupid as the idea of the perfect God coming to trade places with sinful man. But beyond that, “by grace” necessarily means that the laborers who worked the heat of the day will grumble and complain about how unfair it is that everyone gets the same wages.

Post Script: I considered myself a Reformed Baptist (LBCF 1689) for about a decade and loved the label before converting to simply Reformed, but now I’m thinking it’s better to just say Baptist and leave it at that. Unless by final salvation they mean glorification, they've drifted way, way off course from both their own confession and the Reformation itself. But if they did mean that, it would be prudent to simply stick with the old word, since like wine, the old is better.

[Update 10-19-2017 - I've been told by a few people that it's unclear of which LBCF baptists I'm speaking of in this post, and that it's unfair to paint with too broad a brush. Very true. Suffice it to say I was speaking of my Reformed Baptist friends whom I know personally, who live in this area with me, and whom I've talked to about this, and was not speaking about every Reformed Baptist generally. If you're reading this and you stand by your confession (and takes seriously its implications) then you should know all this wasn't about or against you.

And while I'm being open minded and charitable, you should also probably be aware that the Reformed Baptist community where I live feels a debt of gratitude to Piper for converting a number of Russian Christians to the doctrines of grace thanks to a big conference he did here a number of years back. The impact of his winsome sermons have had a number of positive benefits, which the region is still feeling, and it's likely made the community here want to defend Piper more here than in, say, Utica. Saul was loved by the men of Gibeah and they judged him less for the great good he did them.]

Grace as the One Ring

The story of Absalom, Tamar, and Amnon as recorded in 2 Samuel 13 is one of the saddest, lowest points in the Bible—and that’s saying something. It records how the crown prince executes a premeditated plot to rape his half-sister (and because we hate those we are cruel to, because we find it easier to falsely blame others than admit we're evil) Amnon afterwards scorns her.

King David is furious at hearing this (2 Samuel 13:21), but rather than obey the law and banish Amnon as written in Lev 20:17, he instead chooses to sit back and do absolutely nothing at all. Why? Because there were no witnesses and every crime must be settled by a corroboration of the truth rather than a single source? Unlikely, the royal investigation uncovered Jonadab’s involvement at a minimum, and Tamar would easily have been able to provide the necessary circumstantial evidence to settle the matter. I think it’s more likely that David did nothing because he was too ashamed from his recent affair with Uriah’s wife to come down hard on his wayward son. He himself had been shown grace after committing adultery with Bathsheeba, so who was he to pronounce a harsh sentence upon a lesser crime? Thus, instead of being obedient to the law, David gives grace. But God is not mocked, and Deut 27:22 pronounced a curse upon Amnon for his behavior which eventually resulted in his brother Absalom killing him, despite David's grace.

If this was indeed the motivation for David’s behavior (and it seems likely it was) then the lesson is that grace is not to be used by man. That’s a tough thing to come to grips with, and yet, as C.S. Lewis has observed before, this is also the kind of thing that is too hot to hold and yet not too hot to drink. In this way it is similar to God’s sovereignty, or human depravity. In the abstract these doctrines are cruel and painful, and we by nature recoil from them, but when they're accepted and internalized they liberate us with the glorious freedom of God’s God-ness, and we'll defend them ferociously as bedrock truth.

On the surface the idea that grace isn't ours to disperse sounds not only wrong but completely unbiblical. As it is written, "love keeps no records of wrongs" and "blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy." But after some consideration it becomes evident there is no contradiction between God's command to show grace and the warning about doing it on your own terms. Those verses come after 2 Samuel, which means we ought to first learn the horrible lesson that even showing something as maximally wonderful as grace to our own flesh and blood can condemn them to eternal perdition when it is done in opposition to Scripture.

We have to accept the truth that the requirements for dispensing grace are higher than any man has any access to, for man is but a creature, and a fallen one at that. When God gave grace to David it resulted in his repentance because God is all wise, and knows the ends from the beginning. But because David isn’t omniscient the grace shown to Amnon only sped him on towards his inevitable destruction. Grace didn’t cure the sin, it only fed it and caused it to metastasize until the sin was fully grown, at which point it brought forth death. The problem is that men are so thoroughly ruined and infected by sin that nothing they touch is immune from corruption—nothing. Not even something so lofty and pure as forgiveness can escape the misery brought on by our sinfulness, for in our hands even God’s means of our salvation becomes lethal. In this grace may be likened to the Ring of Power from the Lord of the Rings which was beyond the power of man to control. Recall the scene at the council of Elrond when Aragorn’s explains why they can’t just put on the ring and destroy Sauron with it: “You cannot wield it! None of us can!”
Or if you would prefer a less fictitious comparison, grace is as out of reach for us to do good with as is communism, or legalized theft.

Grace belongs to God, and to God alone. We are not strong enough, or wise enough, or smart enough, or moral enough to use it properly. If we try we will instead only bring down devastation. We are weak, our appetites are fallen, and we are infested with sin, making us as not to be trusted with such a royal tool as greedy Isildur himself was with the ring. (Perhaps this is why Jesus did not entrust Himself to us, knowing what is in the heart of a man, John 2:24). If this is still too difficult to accept then consider that it's the same lesson as why we are not permitted to make life or death decisions on our own; why we’re not allowed to commit suicide, for example.

Take as an example King Saul, who when he realized the Philistines were about to capture and humiliate him, chose instead to fall on his sword and take his own life rather than be paraded about as a captive while the uncircumcised crowed their victory over him. Saul’s fear of pain drives him to do an irreversibly foolish thing, and so he dies a lost man. But what if God wanted Saul to be captured and humiliated? What if living in a cage and being poked at was the one thing that would drive him to repentance like it did the wicked king Manasseh many years later? What if by killing himself to avoid an imagined pain Saul deprived himself of reconciliation with the One True God? Instead of having courage Saul swallowed the lie that he had the authority to make life and death decisions over himself, and played at being God to his destruction. We must therefore learn from Saul that God puts boundaries on things not because He hates us, but because He knows what’s best for us. Just as parents don't ask their crawling babies to attend to the fire heating the house, or recommend they use a chainsaw to cut down a tree, God doesn't want us to get in over our heads by using His tools. He is God; we are not.

The lesson then is that it is our duty to trust God and obey the law, and it’s His job to be God. God has not given us sufficient light to see further than His commandments, and it is only the law which acts as a light to our feet and a guide to our path, so it is only by the light of the law that we must live. When God says to give grace, we must give grace. When He says to discipline, we must discipline. Where the law directs us, we must go. When the laws says to do, we must do. And then, once we’ve learned obedience in all things, we will not have a problem loving our brother or showing mercy as instructed. We will play the notes as they are written down for us and not insist that with the improvisation of a sledgehammer to the keys we can improve the score.

In light of the loving instructions showered down upon us for our good we must learn the lesson of Saul and David and lay down the notion that we are like God, able to fathom His ways. We ought to instead accept the daily provision He has set out for us and be grateful that His eye is on us for our good. As the preacher has taught us: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecc 12:13

Orthodoxy Chapter 5 - The Flag of the World

So it’s beyond question that our world is a fairy tale, but there’s also no denying that something is seriously wrong with it as well, becau...