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New Horizons

June, 2002: Great Is the Lord

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God Is Great!

Over and over, the psalmist proclaims it: "God is great!" (Pss. 48:1; 86:10; 95:3; 145:3). What does this mean? Partly, it indicates God's immensity. We tend to think in spatial terms, of God being "big," and so do the Psalms occasionally, as in Psalm 103:11, "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him." But something else is in view here. God is greater than we can grasp. There is more to God than we can ever know or even imagine. Think of the Incarnation, or the Trinity, or the cross of Christ and you will grasp a little of the "infinities and immensities" of the Christian faith. God is truly great!

Theology has expressed this notion by saying that God is incomprehensible—not that God cannot be known at all, but that he cannot be known fully. "Finitum non capax infinitum," wrote Calvin: "The finite cannot grasp the infinite." Two opposing pictures help us grasp this idea: God dwells in "unapproachable light" (1 Tim. 6:16), and, "Clouds and thick darkness surround him" (Ps. 97:2). These are pictorial ways of saying that God cannot be measured. Read more

The "Inability" of God

The inability of God? How can God possibly be thought of as incapable, when we know very well that he is omnipotent? He is not only mighty, but almighty! When the angel Gabriel said to Mary, "Nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37), he was asserting a truth that Jesus would later reassert by stating that "with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26).

And Christ's assertion is in perfect harmony with the Lord's rhetorical question to Abraham many centuries earlier: "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" (Gen. 18:14). The answer is evident. It is what Jeremiah proclaimed in his prayer: "Nothing is too difficult for You" (Jer. 32:17). So then, Scripture is unmistakable in affirming that nothing is impossible with God. And that makes it worse than ridiculous to speak of the inability of God. Read more

The Glory of God: The Sense of All That God Is

The Hebrew word for "glory" means "that which is heavy or weighty." When used figuratively, it refers to God's intense, profound presence, his sheer "weight." By contrast, David Wells says that God is regarded by many modern Christians as "weightless." We must rediscover God's glory.

Moses was granted a vision of God's glory, but it was only the "fringe" of that glory that passed by. He did not see the "face" of God. Yet even this was enough to cause Moses' face to radiate the splendor of God's presence with him. We are granted a vision of God's glory in Jesus Christ. In communion with Jesus, we experience and come to reflect something of God's glory. Here are some of the elements of God's weightiness: Read more

God's Remarkable Providence

Fish, as the saying goes, are the last to ask what water is. Aside from the fact that fish were not created to ask questions, water is the medium of their existence. We, on the other hand, don't live in that element, so we find water noteworthy.

Yet we can be like fish in failing to marvel at something just as basic as water, but far more wonderful. All of us inhabit an element that is as constant a part of our lives as water is for fish. The element that we all "swim" in is God's holy, wise, and powerful governing and preserving of all of us and all our actions. It's "providence," the medium of our existence. There never has been and never will be as much as a single nanosecond of any person's life that is not submerged in the infinite holiness, wisdom, and power of the Creator who preserves and governs us. Perhaps it's understandable that we humans take providence for granted. Read more

Is Predestination the Same Thing as Fate?

This is a sad state of mind that people fall into sometimes, in which they do not know the difference between God and fate. One of the most astonishing illustrations of it in all history is, no doubt, that afforded by our Cumberland Presbyterian brethren, who for a hundred years now [as of 1904—Ed.] have been vigorously declaring that the Westminster Confession teaches "fatalism." What they mean is that the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that it is God who determines all that shall happen in his universe; that God has not—to use a fine phrase of Dr. Charles Hodge's—"given it either to necessity, or to chance, or to the caprice of man, or to the malice of Satan, to control the sequence of events and all their issues, but has kept the reins of government in his own hands." This, they say, is fate: because (so they say) it involves "an inevitable necessity" in the falling out of events. And this doctrine of "fatality," they say—or at least, their historian, Dr. B. W. McDonnold says for them—is "the one supreme difficulty which it has never been possible to reconcile," and which still "stands an insuperable obstacle to a reunion" between them and "the mother church." "Whether the hard places in the Westminster Confession be justly called fatality or not," he adds, "they are too hard for us."

Now, is it not remarkable that men with hearts on fire with love to God should not know him from fate? Of course, the reason is not far to seek. Like other men, and like the singer in the sweet hymn that begins, "I was a wandering sheep," they have a natural objection to being "controlled." They wish to be the architects of their own fortunes, the determiners of their own destinies; though why they should fancy they could do that better for themselves than God can be trusted to do it for them, it puzzles one to understand. And their confusion is fostered further by a faulty way they have of conceiving how God works. They fancy he works only by "general law." "Divine influence" they call it (rather than "him"): and they conceive this "divine influence" as a diffused force, present through the whole universe and playing on all alike, just like gravity, or light, or heat. What happens to the individual, therefore, is determined, not by the "divine influence" which plays alike on all, but by something in himself which makes him respond more or less to the "divine influence" common to all. If we conceive God's modes of operation, thus, under the analogy of a natural force, no wonder if we cannot tell him from fate. For fate is just natural force; and if natural force should thus govern all things, that would be fatalism. Read more

Does God Give Bad Advice?

What does God know, and when does he know it? This startling question lies at the heart of what may well become the hottest theological debate among evangelicals. The outcome will determine whether evangelicals remain committed to what the church has always believed about God, or veer off in favor of a more user-friendly deity.

The current debate swirls around the arguments of Gregory A. Boyd, a theology professor at Bethel College and pastor of a large church in St. Paul, Minnesota. A popular lecturer and a provocative writer, Mr. Boyd has become the focus of intense debate within the Baptist General Conference (with which Bethel College is affiliated), Baker Book House (his publisher), and the larger evangelical world. Read more

Ten Things You Always Wanted to Know about General Assembly

Note: since our General Assembly is being held this month (June 12-19, 2002 at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts), we thought it might be helpful to get answers to some basic questions from the Rev. Donald J. Duff, the stated clerk of the General Assembly.—Editor

1. What is a General Assembly?

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