27 March 2005

Jonathan Edwards

Researching for a message that I will deliver next Sunday, I have returned to my 2 volume set of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. He really knew how to title essays:

"A careful and strict Inquiry into the modern prevailing notions of that freedom of will, which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame."

The passage which I am exploring is Ecclesiastes 3.11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

My focus will be on that first phrase: He has made everything beautiful in its time. The context here is the famous passage about a time to live, a time to die, et. al. A time for this and a time for that, God has made everything beautiful in its time. But what does this mean for us?

I use the term "God filtered" to explore this phrase. A filter is designed to allow a permitted substance to pass, while inhibiting that which is proscribed. When we say that everything is God filtered, what we are saying is that, first of all, God is aware of everything that is going on. Second, that he is involved, intervening as he sees fit. Third, that he has the ability to affect what happens. And fourth, that what he does allow to happen is his will.

God does not react to circumstances. Nothing takes God by surprise. Nothing happens that he has not forseen, anticipated, affected, allowed, chosen to happen.

There are several concepts of God's will. A picture is made of an archers target, with concentric circles, with our actions/motivations/thoughts as arrows. To miss the mark is sin. The rings of the target are God's good, acceptable, and perfect will, with perfect as the bullseye.

Another concept is God's permissive will vs. his perfect will.

A final concept is God's published will, what ought to be, vs. his private will, what actually happens.

I believe all three of these concepts has value. An action may be morally acceptable, but not ideal. God may permit an event, but it is not his best for us. God may tell us what we ought to do, but our failures are part of his plan.

We run into trouble when we try to divine what his private or secret will is. His secret will is just that, secret. Our guidlines are given in his published will, and that is the guide which we should use in determining how we ought to live our lives. But as an underlying foundation, in which we can rest, is that knowledge that God does indeed have a secret will, that God is involved in our lives, that circumstances are God filtered, that God has made everything beautiful in its time.

Where does Jonathan Edwards fit in? He explains that we cannot act against our will, defined as a specific choice in an instant of time relating to a particular object.

The archtypical example is Judas. It was God's will that the Son of Man be betrayed as part of the mechanism which would bring to pass the atonement. However, it is not God's will that Judas should betray Christ. Two different wills here, private vs. published. There is no contradiction. Judas chose to betray Christ, he was culpable. But as part of Gods plan, it was forordained; Judas could not have done different. And this is where Edwards focused his efforts to explain that Judas acted of necessity yet freely, and therefore must shoulder the blame for his action.

I'm hoping to delve more deeply into this in the coming days.