When We Misinterpret God

Sad Girl - When We Misinterpret GodThere have been times, too numerous to count, when I went one way, suspecting the Lord was heading in the same direction, only to find out the heart-breaking reality that God was going a different direction.

People seek to confirm their worldview (belief system) in their experiences. Christians are no different. I am no different. I’m constantly looking for events, I call them “God-sightings”, that evidence what I already believe. We can become so reliant on such events that the events themselves become the anchor for our faith. This is understandable, but very dangerous.

C.S. Lewis Misinterpreted God

I am haunted by the words of C.S. Lewis in his A Grief Observed, (loosely quoted):

It is not as though I have quit believing in God, it is that I have come to the point where I say, “So God, this is who You really are.”

In 1956, at the age of 58, Lewis married Joy Gresham. At first, it was a benevolent legal marriage due to Gresham’s need for British citizenship. However, they eventually fell in love.

After finding out that Gresham had contracted terminal bone cancer, they sought a Christian marriage. In prayerful hope they lived together as husband and wife. The cancer went into remission and they praised God for the unexpected. God had done something wonderful, an anchor in their experience. It was a reason to shout praises to God for His lovingkindness.

Sadly, the remission was short lived. The cancer took her life just three years after the wedding ceremony conducted at Joy’s hospital bedside. One year later Lewis writes, A Grief Observed. The praise he gave God turned into confused bitterness for a time. Even C.S. Lewis, one of the top ten theologians of all time, misinterpreted God.

I Misinterpreted God

I often reflect on the journey of my sister’s death. Like C.S. and Joy Lewis, we thought we’d received a “message” from God, but we were wrong.

To make a long story short, my sister was suicidal for about two years.

She lived near me in Frisco, so when there was a problem, it was up to me to come to the rescue. I broke down her door and rushed her to the hospital when she overdosed on sleeping pills, took her kicking and screaming to the local psych hospital to admit her twice, and traveled to her house on 16 other occasions when we couldn’t reach her.

Once, we couldn’t find her anywhere. She wasn’t at home or at work. I didn’t know what to do. She’d had a particularly bad day and was very suicidal. I got in my car and started looking for her. I randomly pulled into a hotel off the highway. It was nothing short of a miracle; I found her in a room with a six-pack and a gun. I was able to stop her… this time.

I found my sister, in a hotel room, with a six-pack and a gun.

In the middle of this tragic situation, my family and I believed God was answering our prayers as we pleaded for her life. We had a “divine” comfort that she wasn’t going to die. Otherwise, how do we explain such a miracle?

Because, we were going left and God was going right. Despite the praise (which, looking back, seems like a kind of “arm twisting” to gain divine assurance), Angie took her life three months later in a different hotel room that I couldn’t find. Sadly, this isn’t the only time I’ve come face-to-face with the issue of suicide.

Our Only Sure Anchor?

I could tell many more stories. But these should suffice as illustrations of how careful we must be not to let our experiences be the anchor of our faith.

I could also tell stories about the times God went right, and I tracked with Him. As beneficial as that would be, I’ll save those for another time. This is about the times we misunderstand what God is doing and purchase too much equity in that particular stock.

In the end, I’ve learned that the only sure anchor for my faith is the resurrection of Christ.

Christ isn’t Lord because He rescues people from cancer, saves the depressed, or fixes their finances. Christ is Lord because He rose from the dead. It’s that simple.

I’ll have many other anchors. So will you. But none compare to the resurrection of Christ. Hold onto those other anchors loosely. God can be praised in all things, but not necessarily in our interpretation of all things.

The lyrics to The Frey’s song “You Found Me” come to mind. In a Psalmist-like rendering of confusion, the words spoken to the Lord (with which we can all identify) ring loudly:

Where were you when everything was falling apart?

All my days were spent by the telephone that never rang

And all I needed was a call that never came

But the call had already come; two thousand years ago on a cross, on a hill, and in an empty tomb. It was, and is, a call to all of us.

How about you? Have you had times when you felt God misdirected you? Please share.

30 Responses to “When We Misinterpret God”

  1. I’ve had similar feelings, not about life and death issues, but still serious issues. It’s as if you think you are following God, then He goes around a corner up ahead. When you go around the corner, suddenly you don’t see God anymore. Sometimes it can get hurtful, because it feels God is playing with you, using the circumstances of life like a cat toy to jerk you around.

    But, my consolation, similarly to yours, deals with the resurrection. I can only say to myself, “to whom shall I go? YOU have the words of eternal life”.

    So all I can do is do my best to be faithful until God “shows up” again.

  2. Isn’t it hard to have a god who is incapable of clearly making his desires know no matter how hard you pray and listen? It’s ALMOST like he is just a figment of your imagination!

    • Mmm… would I be correct in interpreting your comment as sarcasm?

      It’s important to be clear about some things.

      God has spoken, and undeniably so, in his word, the Bible. He has also supremely spoken through Jesus Christ. In the areas God has revealed in the Bible, what God desires from us is made perfectly clear.

      The Bible clearly teaches the following:

      – We are commanded by God to perfectly love him and love others

      – We are all guilty of breaking that law

      – We deserve his punishment

      – God so loved the world that God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, bore the punishment that sinners deserved so that if we turn from our sin and trust in Christ we will be forgiven and reconciled to God

      – God will one day judge all of us, and those who rejected Christ as their saviour will answer for their sins before God themselves

      There is no uncertainty regarding what God desires in the above areas.

      There are specific areas of life in which we do not know God’s will and can get it wrong. Where we live, whom or if we marry, where we work, etc. Those are the kind of areas this article is addressing.

      The Bible is clear that God uses all the experiences that a believer in Christ goes through as a means of training them to trust and obey him more.

      That includes those experiences of life where Christians misunderstand the direction they thought God wanted them to go in.

      But none of that changes the fact that God has made his will concerning the gospel very clear in the Bible.

  3. I have just recovered from an illness which had family and friends worried about me. I did not pray for my recovery as I trust the Jesus Messiah was with me here and that he never left this earth. I don’t doubt the resurrection and know that someday Jesus Messiah will allow himself to be seen by us and that many of our questions will not matter then or that He will let us know the answers. Until then I will not try to figure it all out. I have taken care of a close family member who died of cancer after I cared for him for eight years. He never went to a doctor’s appointment or a transfusion or a chemo without my being with him. I knew that he would die eventually but I could not pray that God would spare him when so many of our friends were also in cancer treatment. He died in 1993 and cancer treatment have improved since.

  4. The important thing is to not put words in God’s mouth. I think we are all well aware when we do that. But sometimes we discover ourselves doing it. It seems like more than we’re capable of in that moment not to do it. If in that crucifying moment you can dream up something to get you through it without denying God, go for it.
    Cancer is not what someone does to herself, suicide is. Acceptance as the root virtue insists on black being black, white being white, and each particular shade of gray being that precise particular shade. After all, God does not set up this life as some sort of laboratory experiment on us. If you believe that, you worship the devil.

  5. It is easy to think, that if we could only get all our ducks in a row, everything would turn out in a way we could understand and explain. We would most certainly be arrogant beyond all bearability, if this were so. Our missteps have the capacity to either drive us toward or away from Him. If we must have what we want when we want it, we will eventually walk out into the night. but, if I can wait, the morning will come. If we will listen, we will hear: “He gives songs in the night.” I remember an old chorus I think I learned from an old British preacher: “Roll your burdens on Jesus, He’ll give you a song, When nothing turns out alright, When everything turns out all wrong, When the way is rough and rugged, When the nights are weary and long, Roll your burdens on Jesus, He’ll give you a song.” Perhaps some of you may know it. The melody may be a bit too cheerful for some tastes, but it has proved to be good advice.

    God told Isaiah to go to the watchman. It must have been near sunset, for he asks the watchman a question: “What of the night?” The watchman”s reply: “The night comes and the morning also.” In our nights we see only form and shadow and misunderstand, but the morning comes, if we are willing to wait for it.

    David gets it right, here: “I am meek and lowly, yet the Lord thinks upon me. The Lord’s name be magnified.”

  6. Here’s a question that I wrestle with: do any of God’s promises have any operationalizable application in this world? The Bible is replete with promises from God. Many of them are specific promises to specific people that all came true. The hall of faith promises that weren’t received from Hebrews 11 clearly refers to the promise of Christ. Abraham most definitely received the son he was promised.

    Yet if we look at basically every promise God makes from our current standpoint in terms of how it applies to our lives, it would appear that there’s no possible earthly event that could ever conceivably prove to Christians that God didn’t deliver or failed to keep his word. Therefore, the promises are, practically speaking, meaningless in terms of this world. I think we’d agree that any human promise with these characteristics is little more than a platitude.

    When doing consulting projects, I would sometimes tacitly assume that the best I could hope to get in terms of productivity out of a client team member was a zero. Does God want us to pencil him in for zero? I don’t think so. But if we plan on anything from God, it appears we have no reason to actually rely on him delivering it. Hence we can’t help but repeatedly fall in the ditch, either by not expecting anything from God or by experiencing spiritually debilitating failures of God to meet the expectations we did have of him.

    It’s not clear to me exactly what God wants us to do.

    • Dear Neguy,

      “It’s not clear to me exactly what God wants us to do.”

      TRUST HIM.

      Jesus tells us that we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer, if we have faith. faith in what? faith in His Word to tell us what is best and faith that He will give us what is best…for what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

      faith in prayer -the highest expression of trust, submission, and union with God, agreeing with God too , i.e. under the limitations of His Kingdom and His purposes for good, both for one’s own interest and for others and under the conditions of the interest of the whole Kingdom.

      Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; we are looking for a better country for God had provided something better for us. If we hope in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied; but through Jesus Christ we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. and not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

      from days of old we have not heard or perceived by ear, nor has the eye seen a God besides our God, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him; just as it was written then, it is now:“ things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him “

      Matt 21:22; 7: 9 -11; Heb verses;1 Cor 15:19; Isa 64:4,other sources; Rom 5: 1-5; 1 Cor 2:7-10

      • A response like this is profoundly unhelpful. This falls into the same trap that Neguy was outlining: supposedly clear promises turn into platitudes because they can never actually be tested.

        That Christians all over the glove ask for things in faith but never receive them would contradict Jesus’ own teaching. Heck, even Paul said he prayed for something but didn’t get it, and we know he didn’t lack for faith. So either Jesus was wrong or He didn’t mean what was said. You’re obviously opting for the latter, as you interpret Jesus’ teaching as Him giving us “what is best”.

        But this, as Neguy points out, is meaningless in real life. If I pray to be healed, but get sicker, is this “best”? For a Christian, it would have to be, even in the face of all the scriptures that insist if we ask to be healed, we will. So, all “TRUST HIM” ends up meaning is that “whatever happens, happens, and you just need to insist it’s God fulfilling His promises”. But a hypothesis in which everything is a confirmation is a meaningless hypothesis.

        • not quite sure what you are saying – is the alternative that we would say “don’t necessarily trust God?” ; in any case about being helpful, it is helpful to me since mind renewal in His truths is necessary for me every single day, speaking of, as you say, self-deceit potential.

          re: Paul*,-as you say,he did have faith – faith to make his request with confidence; faith to agree with/be content with God’s answer; and then not only that but to boast in his weakness; how kind and instructive of the Lord to remind him and us why His answer was best, which is the same answer to us – “my grace is sufficient for you…”

          *Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12:7-10

          and although you have commented several times here on this, not clear on the helpful word (from His word) that you are offering

          • a., the alternative is to see if there is some way to make the idea of “trusting God” or “answered prayer” mean something other than “whatever happens, happens”. However, I will admit that I do not know what that way is, because I cannot claim to actually communicate with God – at least not in some way in which I can reliably know that I’m doing so.

            And it seems to me you are missing the point with the example of Paul. The point isn’t that we can’t ever find some complicated reasoning for why some prayer isn’t answered the way we expect or that we can’t find some strained justification for suffering. It’s that the exercise in performing these justifications is highly dissonant with the promises we find in scripture. Reading the NT, we are struck by Paul’s ONE “unanswered” prayer because everywhere else his prayer seems so successful. This isn’t so dissonant.

            But let’s face it: that’s not the experience of modern believers, nor has it been for a very long time. In fact, this is so opposed to our experience that we are actually *highly suspicious* of believers who claim such success. Think of the Benny Hinns of the world, and this actually does seem much more consistent with what was promised in the NT – yet when we see such numerous examples of “successfully answered” prayers we actually think something is amiss. What’s more disturbing than that is that we are RIGHT to do so.

            This is “helpful” only insofar that it highlights the levels of our self-deception. If your prayer life basically boils down to “whatever happens, happens” and you consider it “an answer to prayer” – and this is what many/most Christians are taught – then this is the height of confirmation bias. The alternative, unfortunately, is much harder: to actually test what you think God is telling you against real life. It is interesting that when the outcome isn’t what is expected, the answer isn’t “I wasn’t hearing from God, but I thought I was” but more like the OP: “I misunderstood”. That distinction is a subtle, but very important one, because it casts far more doubt on the reliability of the process.

    • Well put. Confirmation bias rules the day when it comes to the promises in scripture or answers to prayer. When a Christian claims one and it seems to work, then this is confirmation. But negative results is never counted as contradiction. And it can’t, because then we all know the jig would be up.

  7. Michael , thanks for sharing.

  8. God gives us great freedom in this life…to choose for ourselves all sorts of things.

    But where choosing the things of God is concerned, we have no freedom.

    Most Christians have it exactly backwards.

  9. As a Christian, I once hoped God would give me some supernatural confirmation of my faith. I felt I needed it. The Bible seemed to be a fantasy unrelated to my world, especially the books of Revelation and early Genesis . If God would only break through with a mystical vision like he did for the apostle Paul, then I would surely be confirmed in my faith. I was also attracted to the possibility of other experiences, such as speaking in tongues, which I practiced privately for a short time. It seemed to help, but I was never quite sure that it was genuine. At some point I decided that this was all I was going to get. I had to move forward in life believing one thing or the other. What I did know of Christ was too valuable to let go of. I did find some grounding in the writings of Josh McDowell, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Henry Morris. A study of Romans and Galatians assured me that God had chosen me and would not lose his grasp on me. I came to see that I identified strongly with Thomas, in setting the standard of proof, rather than humbly accepting that the evidence God provided was sufficient. Even his work in nature, was sufficient for men to know of his divine power and eternal nature. As I study more about the complexity of life from such books as Signature in the Cell, it seems clear to me that a supernatural being was necessary to bring life into existence. That is my miracle. The world is full of them.

  10. The thing that puzzles me is that people refer to knowing/perceiving what God wants and/or does as if this is in anyway straightforward. The OP presents cases where it is thought that God wants one thing, but that turns out not the case. How does one know that? because something bad happened? That means nothing.

    Likewise, just because one thinks God wants to move in some direction, and so you do also and meet some success, in no way means that was actually what God wanted. In reality, no one is doing anything other than guessing, and in at least a lot of cases, self-deceiving.

    • Not every Christian believes that God has a particular will for every decision you make in life and that to follow him correctly you need to seek him to find out what that will is (The Traditional View). Rather, (The Wisdom View) says we can exercise freedom in these decisions as long as they are moral, wise, and God has not told us to do otherwise in some unmistakable way (which is rare). See Decision Making and the Will of God – Gary Friesen. The Wisdom View still believes that God is sovereign and that he works out everything according to his purpose. We are still encouraged to pray, and told that our prayers are effective. But we still may not have a clue.

      • Rob, I think most Christians believe that not *every*decision is one in which God has a plan for you. Not too many Christians out there praying over which pair of socks to wear in the morning, I don’t think. But pretty much every Christian believes that God does, in fact, have a plan for them. The question is how one would know that. There are Christians out there who don’t think that God communicates directly to people, that whatever you need to know is in scripture.

        But most, I think, believe that God at least communicates directly with *some* people. The question then would be, how do you know if you’re one of the “some”? Wouldn’t want to miss out by assuming you’re not, right?

        The other issue here is in what sense our prayers are “effective”? What does an “effective” prayer look like? If I pray to God to heal my sick cousin, but he dies, but God is simply using that death “according to His purpose”, was my prayer effective?

        • I can believe that God has a plan for my life based on Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence.” I do not believe that I will necessarily need to know or can know what that plan is, based in part on Psalm 139:17, “ How difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts about me, O God! How vast is their sum total!”
          I agree that most Christians that seek God’s direction do not ask it for all decisions. But where is the dividing line? Some only draw it at the big questions of marriage, ministry call, career, college, and spiritual activities such as witnessing. Yet even for the question of marriage, Paul does not counsel the believer to pray to God for direction but seems to leave up to the individual. I Cor. 7:39, “A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only someone in the Lord).”
          As to what I would consider a direct communication from God regarding a decision, I would have to say that I don’t take hints well (as my wife can testify). A burning bush, a voice from heaven, a talking donkey, those I would take as a revelation from God. I receive thoughts and impressions, but I consider them just that. They may be from God, I don’t know, but I usually evaluate them according to morality and wisdom.
          Your last question about what is an effective prayer is one for which I have no answer. I drew my remark from James 5:16. “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” And the context is about praying for healing. But I know from experience that God does not always heal in answer to prayer, even the prayer of a righteous person (the verse assumes there is such a person at least relatively so, or perhaps who has the righteousness of Christ). The best that I can say is that God takes our prayers into consideration. We are not fatalistic. We have a say.

          • “I can believe that God has a plan for my life based on Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes saw me when I was inside the womb. All the days ordained for me were recorded in your scroll before one of them came into existence.”” -Rob

            Just an observation here but I don’t interpret this verse to mean “plan.”

            Plan: 1 a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.
            2. an intention or decision about what one is going to do.

            “All the days ordained for me … ” says that there are a set number of days to which I will live. This number of days was ordered (ordained). Perhaps there is intention to the number. We might infer that since it was ordered. But perhaps the intention is not for me but someone else? Perhaps there is no intention other than how the genetic lot assembled me. Based on my genetic construction I will have X number of years. That could be ordination.

            “… were recorded in your scroll.” This to me merely means that they have been written down. There is no design implied in this action.

            Doesn’t Ecclesiastes 9:9 say “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun–all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.”

            Or Ecclesiastes 6:12 “For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?”

  11. If one believes in free will and that not everything is predestined by God, the following argument might apply:

    God can and does do miracles and can direct and interact with his universe as he wishes. He can and has smitten people and let loose his righteous wrath at times.

    However, all of the evil in the universe is a result of man or Satan and his minions.

    It is the natural and unavoidable necessity that evil can happen because God chooses to allow free will in his creation.

    Having a choice means at least 2 things to choose from, so both evil and good must be possible choices and people must not be pure evil or pure good but a mixture of both.

    Therefore, in this instance the meanness of the divorcing husband might have been free will acts by him that could have precipitated much of the trouble. His free will acts of meanness may have been some of the main factors in “breaking” Michael’s sister.

    Also, God may have done many miracles as the family fought against this illness and to save Michael’s beloved sister, especially the big one mentioned here.

    Perhaps these miracles could be God’s attempt, just short of forcing Michael’s sister against her will to not commit suicide, to save Michael’s sister along with the help of Michael and his family, friends, doctors, nurses, etc.

    In the end, perhaps it was not just a predestined tragedy totally at the hands of God but the final free will choice of Michael’s sister to commit suicide.

    Also, perhaps Satan somehow had his hand in some of this as well?

    If one takes this type of view one can feel free to take away the bitterness toward God and realize perhaps He did all He could out of love along with the family doing what they could out of love to save Michael’s sister short of taking away her own self determination.

    So, the blame shifts naturally from God, who is pure good, to the nature of the universe, the fall of man and the subsequent evil that men have done ever since.

  12. Aeoril, what you describe – for the most part – is a perfectly possible world, logically speaking. Theologically speaking, there are a few problems, I think. Biblically, there is at least one problem as well.

    Theologically, you are not going to be able to establish that “the blame shifts naturally from God”. Unless you want to claim that God could not do anything other than create this world (not sure how that could be justified), then God still chose to instantiate this one. And even if you wanted to claim that God doesn’t know the future free actions of His creation, as some do, it was still His roll of the dice that led us down this path. So, ultimately, blame still comes back to God.

    Now, you might say, “yeah but He’d doing what He can to make things right – while still allowing free will”. And perhaps that is true: it is certainly logically possible. But it definitely isn’t Biblical. I’ll get back to that, but the other issue would be granting God a “pass” here basically requires us to believe that Free Will trumps all other goods. And it isn’t clear to many that it is. I might be pretty thankful for my free will right now as I sit comfortably at my comfortable, but I’m willing to bet that a starving child or abused spouse might not be as thankful. My guess is that they’d take a perfect world with no free will over the pain and suffering they go through because of it.

    Biblically speaking, we have the aforementioned problem, which is that God definitely is not doing all HE can right now to make things right, He has essentially deputized Christians to do so (the Great Commission). The 2nd coming and accompanying judgment are still pending. Which, BTW, also relates to the issue of God’s interference with free will. If God is willing to strike down those down before they (potentially) have a chance to submit/convert, then it would stand to reason that He knows that they wouldn’t have done so. But this means that He does have knowledge of free actions, which in turn draws FAR more blame than was initially discussed.

    In addition, there does seem at least a few instances of God actually interfering with free will in scripture. But even leaving that aside, Biblically speaking, not ALL of the evil in this world is man’s fault, or even Satan’s fault. God pronounces curses in scripture which don’t seem to be necessary (good luck trying to argue that they are). One can get around this somewhat by trying to claim that things like the creation stories are not meant to be taken literally, which is fine, but then – presumably – it would be fair to say that God designed the weather patterns as is. Unless you want to claim that Satan did that too, which seems dubious at best (again, that would be theologically problematic).

    The main point in all of this, though, is that at no point is God absolved of blame. He is responsible.

    • Just thinking out loud, I would think oppression is the worst evil of all.

      Oppression of the mind is worse than any other type of oppression.

      I think there are many in history who have suffered torture and death rather than endure oppression. Also, even those who have been unable to resist physical oppression have found comfort in the freedom of their internal thoughts during their worst times. I think many of these people have written about this kind of thing perhaps?

      If God did not design us with free will, he would be oppressing not only our actions but our minds.

      If I remember correctly, very few times in Scripture does God use mind control (maybe I am wrong, though). Pharoah in Exodus comes to mind.

      It is interesting to note that God used oppression of Pharoah only out of the extreme need to free his chosen people from oppression and through the oppression of Pharoah to solidify the single most unifying element of Judaism until Christ by “hardening Pharoah’s heart,” thereby guaranteeing his message would eventually free billions from the tyranny and oppression of sin once we had the resurrection of our Savior.

      I for one am glad I am alive and will live in an eternity in heaven despite all my sufferings, which are not by any means trivial, and thank God daily for the gift of life and especially eternal life.

      • Just thinking out loud, I would think oppression is the worst evil of all.

        Aeoril, obviously I’m not going to disagree that oppression is evil. However, it seems to me that any evil can, however indirectly, be considered a form of oppression. But even if that isn’t the case, I don’t think that it’s a fair dichotomy to say that IF we don’t have free will, THEN we will be oppressed. Oppression exists only insofar that you resist or disagree. Assuming that God had the ability to create a good world with free will (not a dubious assumption if we consider God to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc.), then it seems unlikely that people would be “oppressed”. Is a robot or computer “oppressed”?

        In any case, does it not seem to you just a tad inconsistent to claim that oppression = worst thing ever, but then justify it if it serves a better good? If you can justify the Pharaoh instance because if God had not intervened, then something worse would have happened, then oppression is not the worst thing ever.

        • I think the way I am using the term “oppression” is in a sense different than just any form of evil.

          For instance, the evil of greed might make me hoard wealth and become rich, idolizing wealth over God, which is evil. But in doing so, I may not directly oppress anyone, especially if in gaining my wealth I have fair labor practices and produce helpful products for people to use, like life saving cancer medication.

          On the other hand, the oppression of slavery or imprisonment for stating beliefs not held in agreement with a state church, or mind control leading to disaster from the decisions I was not free to avoid would be what I am getting at when discussing oppression here.

          If we don’t have free will but instead are controlled in our every aspect (including our decisions) by God, then in the universe God actually created those who go to hell would be oppressed by God. I do not think many if any people in hell have gone there willingly. Would a loving God really be doing that much evil all the time?

          He may have the ability to make a world with free will but without evil, but he did not. Also, my admittedly limited capabilities of reason could not conceive of such a world, for what its worth.

          God used the oppression of Pharoah to free billions from the oppression of sin. So, he used the worst evil on the few (or the one) to free the many from the worst evil.

        • Oh, also a robot or computer cannot feel oppression because they have no consciousness. That is a human trait.

          I think perhaps the question searched for here is given a purely good world with free will could any person be oppressed?

          I think here we have a problem fundamental to this thought experiment in that from what people can fathom it is impossible to make choices, or at least moral choices, without both good and evil to choose from, so this question becomes impossible to answer.

          If there were no evil, there could by definition be no oppression. Oppression by its nature implies suffering of some sort caused by someone forcing their will upon the oppressed. Purely good men in a purely good world would never make a decision that knowingly causes suffering of another – they would never knowingly cause the evil of oppression, for we have made an axiom of no evil.

          In the end, such questions though perhaps having philosophical merit do not describe God’s actual creation.

          A very pertinent question that comes to my mind here, though, is if people do not realize they are being oppressed because they do not realize God is controlling everything is it actually oppression?

          In the actual universe, where people make bad decisions that result in all kinds of evil, including horrid oppression and slavery to sin leading to hell I think it is very fair to say if God were controlling our thoughts by predestining everything it is oppression as seen in the untold suffering caused by the inability to make right choices by many people much of the time.

          But what about in a purely good world? Why did God not just make a purely good world with no oppression of any kind, no suffering, and everything all wonderful? Isn’t God evil for creating the world with so much suffering and evil in it, not to mention hell, if he could have made everyone happy and unaware that their decisions were not their own but God’s will?

          I think here we get to the crux of why God made things as they are, and what reason a loving God could have to make the universe as it is.

          I must go back to the idea that ultimately a predestined world with us being “robots with consciousness” would be hollow, would have no meaning.

          We are here I believe to live in love with God and others, and to do so meaningfully means in full conscience and with free will to not love.

          I think God would have a very unsatisfactory experience of love of his beloved followers if they were “elected” by him and every aspect of his creation were laid out by him and him alone. It would be the equivalent of an elaborate series of dominoes laid out to knock each other down in an elaborate display of engineering. It is indeed impressive, but I can only think that having people in God’s image with full free will would be infinitely more satisfying on both sides than just a big game of knocking over dominoes.

          Also, when one finds the freedom of God’s word and the joy and freedom of salvation through Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it makes all the suffering one endures in life worth it. That relationship is not just good for God (despite his having to endure seeing the suffering of his beloved,) it becomes equally satisfying for his beloved men (even though they must endure the sufferings of themselves and those they love in this world of much evil.)

          I think in the end the depth of ones love and joy is metered by the depth of ones sorrow, and we will take our memories of sorrow and joy to heaven with us in that final big payoff of everlasting life. For me personally, as I said before, it has been worth all the suffering to reap the benefits of the great love and joy, and to know the deep empathetic joy of love and kindness I can give to others who suffer having suffered myself.

          • I had an earlier reply than this one to your post, Mr. Chappell, but for some reason it did not seem to make it into the reply chain.

            in it, I discussed each the points not addressed above you brought up.

            I apologize it did not make it for whatever reason, and will think about trying to reconstitute it for you.


        • Here is my attempt to reconstitute my earlier post to answer you:

          I think the way I am using the term “oppression” here is distinct from many other kinds of evil.

          For instance, a man could be greedy and become a slave to the idols of material goods, which is evil. However, he could do so in a way that does not oppress anyone. For instance he could make a drug that benefits many by curing cancer and use fair labor practices to enable those who work in his company happy to be there.

          Oppression, as I am using it, would imply things exemplified by such evils as slavery, imprisonment because of professing religious beliefs different from the state religion, or God forcing through predestination people to make bad decisions that cause them or others to suffer.

          Also, when I speak of the oppression of lack of free will, I am discussing it within the context of God’s actual creation.

          In God’s actual creation, people often make evil decisions that cause themselves and others to suffer. If God forced those decisions on us, he would be oppressing us because of that suffering. Also, I do not think anyone would willingly go to hell, so people in reality would resist making wrong decisions much of the time if they had a choice (which they do, I believe.)

          Pharoah is an example of the few (or the one) being oppressed to save the many (or billions) from another type of oppression – in this case, the oppression of sin.

          The episode of Pharoah in many ways is the iconic “first major step” in the unfolding of God’s loving purposes to free us from the oppression of our sins by forging a people and their religion that would ultimately be the vehicle used to send the world his son incarnate in the flesh to die on the cross to free us from bondage those sins.

  13. I’ve always been taught that God answers every prayer with Yes, No, or You’ll have to waits and see. This post is quite timely for me as I’ve been driven by frustration with “organized” church to question much. I’m not sure anymore that the prayer talked about in the Bible is what we are doing today. So I’m going to open a couple of cans of worms but from a position of faith.

    If we are all indwelt by the Holy Spirit then a lot of what we do as prayer isn’t necessary or it is highly redundant. Shouldn’t talking to God be an almost constant thing? Why make a list and ask for certain things if He already knows our every thought and desire?

    Logically it seems like we should be praying differently for believers than unbelievers. For example, When a saved person gets terminally sick: When we ask for healing aren’t well telling God to DENY this good servant their reward, DENY them their trip home? Shouldn’t we comfort the believer all we can and let them go? Maybe that is why God usually says NO to those prayers? In the cases of suicide (which has touched my family also), I’m just baffled. Do we really have the power to end our lives or does God have to permit each death – where is the boundary of our free will?

    Then there is the whole issue of who’s prayers should God answer? For every prayer made there is probably a prayer going up for it’s opposite. Sometimes too, if we are honest with ourselves our prayers are a way of insisting that God do what we want, not what is best in His eyes. If He doesn’t do it our way we say the prayer was not answered.

    Three verses came to mind when reading this post and comments:

    Proverbes 16:3 Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. (Does this mean God does not make a plan for us until we commit to Him? That would explain alot.) Psalm 37:23-24 seems to put for a similar notion with the added comfort that we can’t hurt ourselves too badly when we make a wrong turn.

    for the Confirmation Bias set: Zechariah 9:12, the phrase “prisoners of hope” has wedged itself in my mind this year and comforts me in a odd way when I get frustrated that God hasn’t “fixed” certain things. Hope can be hard on the heart.

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