Book Review: Praying with Paul (D. A. Carson)

Praying with Paul

(The bigger, the better, right?)

D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) and is the author and editor of more books than you can shake a stick at (or “more than fifty books” as the back cover says). Simply, if you haven’t heard of Carson, you haven’t read a book (or my blog, at least). If you haven’t read Carson, this would be a good place to start. After seeing all that Carson has written about, one might think he lives in a high, impregnable ivory tower. But when one looks at all he’s done, all he’s preached on, and all he’s written, one should get a different idea about him.

In Praying with Paul, A Call to Spiritual Reformation (2nd Ed.), Carson invites the reader to look with him at some of the Apostle Paul’s prayers to the Father. What is Paul’s perspective when he prays? Does he pray for good health? A good life? Or does he pray for wisdom? Life? And not only for himself, but for others too? Carson looks at prayer through Paul’s eyes (along with Moses and Daniel), the proper perspective of God, and why we should pray when God is sovereign and already has the plan laid out.

Outline

In Chapter One, after expressing his own inadequacies in the school of prayer, Carson lists 8 practical prayer helps that he has received from more mature prayer warriors. In Chapters Two and Three, Carson works through 2 Thessalonians 1.1-12 (and 1.3-12), giving us the structure of prayer and what kind of petitions we should bring before the living God. Chapter Four is focused on praying for others and looks at a long list of Paul’s commands to pray for others. Chapter Five (1 Thessalonians 3.9-13) covers Paul’s passion for people, sinners just like you and me, praying they make it to the end. We look at Colossians 1.9-14 in Chapter Six, and we see “what to pray for, how to approach God,” and that we would live a life that is pleasing to Him. Chapter Seven looks at excuses we make not to pray. In Chapter Eight (Philippians 1.9-11) Paul prays that his readers would abound in the knowledge of God, which will lead them (and us) to be eager to pray.

Chapter Nine works to answer the long-asked question, “How does prayer change things if God is sovereign?” [See my posts here]. Chapter Ten (Ephesians 1.15-23); For what “reason” (Eph 1.15) does Paul set himself to pray? For all that God has done for the believer. Chapter Eleven (Ephesians 3.14-21) Paul prays for ‘power,’ power through the Holy Spirit, and “power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.” And this power is likely not what we think it is. Chapter Twelve (Romans 15.14-33); We look at a final, fresh prayer of Paul, one that was only partially answered. We should be praying for ministry, further ministry, both for ours and for another’s, and that God would give life to the people we and others are serving.

The Chocolate Milk

I enjoyed the book as a whole, I especially enjoyed Chapters Nine through Eleven (probably due to the placement of Chapter Nine). After considering how God works with, in, and through prayer, Chapter Ten Paul prays because God is sovereign. “Just as Daniel prayed for the end of the exile because God had promised that the exile would end, so Paul prays that christians may grow in their knowledge of God because God had declared his intention to expose his people to the glories of his grace, both now and for eternity (Chapter Nine, 149).” Because God has promised to work, God does work. In Chapter Eleven the power God strengthens us with, rather being some king of grand might where we easily overcome our fears, sins, dry spells, and worries, is one that keeps us weak so that we will rely on him. As we focus on the cross of Christ, we see how we are to live: sacrificing ourself and humbling ourselves for the benefit of all others.

But before I begin preaching (these were first sermons by Carson), the entire book is a gem. Carson knows the hardships in prayer. “The idea… is that Paul understands real praying to include an element of struggle, discipline, work, spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil. Insofar as the Roman Christians pray this way for Paul, they are joining him in his apostolic struggle” (188). In praying we are warring against the enemy. No wonder it’s so difficult. And it’s not enough to know theology. It’s not enough to know about God. We need to know Him. He is a personal God, and we are to pray for his promises in our lives and in the lives of others.

Recommended?

I have yet to read Keller’s book on Prayer, but I would imagine this would be an excellent companion volume. Any book by Carson is good, and this book is no different. Prayer is difficult to follow through with in my own life. As a natural-born introvert, one-way conversations don’t get my blood pumping (not do two-, three- four-. etc). But following along Paul’s fresh prayers, along with other biblical characters and the psalms, we can begin to view prayer in the proper way. Rather than making it all about ourselves, our day, our jobs, and so on, we can pray for true spiritual maturity in our lives, our spouses, our children, and others, and we can see why we can and should do it. Carson speaks with gentleness and clarity. This isn’t a book on boring exegesis. It’s on exposition. What does Paul say? What does it mean? And how can we make this ours? Mature prayer warriors (if I may use the term in a non-cliche way) are few and far between. It doesn’t take being a spiritual giant to pray. It simply takes seeing who God reveals himself to be in his word and wanting to know more of him that you can sit down and pray. This book is easy for any high schooler to read, but it has the depth and clarity from a scholar of over 40 years.

Lagniappe

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic; 2 edition (January 20, 2015)
  • PDF Sample Here

Posts

  1. God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 1
  2. GS & HR, Part 2
  3. GS & HR, Part 3
  4. GS & HR, Part 4
  5. GS & HR, Part 5
  6. Two Poems on Prayer

Buy it on Amazon!

[Special thanks to Baker Academic  for allowing me to review this book! I was not required to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 5

This is the final post of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We’ll look at two prayers from two spiritual giants: (1) Daniel and (2) Moses.

Other Case Studies

“Those who pray in the Scriptures regularly pray in line with what God has already disclosed he is going to do” (139).

Daniel

Daniel knew about God’s promised word to Jeremiah (Dan 9.2) that at the end of the seventy year exile the Jews would travel back to their homeland. God is not a machine, but is personal. Daniel “appeals to God to preserve the integrity of his own name, the sanctity of his own covenant, his reputation for mercy and forgiveness.

And the exile ends” (140).

Moses

Moses is receiving the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai, the children of Israel are committing heinous idolatry. The people have declared their loyalty to Yahweh, the One who rescued them from abject slavery, but in a moment’s notice they turn their backs and worship a golden calf. God is furious and threatens to destroy them (Exod. 32:9–10).

But Moses intercedes for Israel, “appealing to God both as the Sovereign and as the supreme personal Deity” (140). While they have sinned and God could destroy them, the Egyptians would mock God, saying he couldn’t even save his own people. Or, perhaps worse, he led them out in order to destroy them.

Moses reminds God of his promises to the forefathers, “Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever’” (32.12).

Moses isn’t thinking fatalism here (“simply trust the promises of God and everything will work out”). Moses turns to intercession: “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people” (32:12).

“Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (32:14).

Many say, “See? God does change his mind. His purposes are not sovereign and steadfast. Prayer does change things because it changes the mind of God” (141).

But perhaps we should look at a few more prayers.

Amos and the False Prophets in Ezekiel

In the book of Amos, God threatens judgment against Israel. Amos, hearing about it, passionately intercedes on their behalf: “I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’ ” (Amos 7:2). “Amos’s prayer proves effective. Twice we are told, ‘So the Lord relented’ (7:3, 6)” (141).

On the other end, “God berates the false prophets of Israel precisely because they do not intercede for the people” (Ezek. 13:5, p. 141).

What Doth This Meaneth?

“God expects to be pleaded with; he expects godly believers to intercede with him. Their intercession is his own appointed means for bringing about his relenting, and if they fail in this respect, then he does not relent and his wrath is poured out” (142).

What happened with Moses? “Moses is effective in prayer not in the sense that God would have broken his covenant promises to the patriarchs, nor in the sense that God temporarily lost his self-control until Moses managed to bring God back to his senses. Rather, in God’s mercy Moses proved to be God’s own appointed means, through intercessory prayer, for bringing about the relenting that was nothing other than a gracious confirmation of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (142).

Is this kind of praying left only to Moses, Daniel, Amos, and Paul? No. James says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit“ (James 5.17-18).

It’s not that these men (and women) were so special and so gifted and so “holy” that God gave extra ear to them. It’s that they sought out the purposes of God, who God is, what his character is, and they trusted in Him. They prayed believing that God was listening. This does not mean God is a genie and all of our prayers will be answered (not all of Paul’s were). But we do serve a personal God who listens to us, who condescends to us in the form of a human being. Jesus taught us how to pray that we might sit around and parse the details of Greek? No. Though that is a good thing to do in your studies (if you know Greek, Jesus taught us to pray so that we could pray!

God’s character is profoundly mysterious to us. He has revealed himself to us, yet he is infinite and we are not. The more we study his word, the more we will learn how to pray, what to pray for, why we should pray, and how we should ask. We will learn more about our Father and hopefully will be drawn to speak with him as he has spoken to us first. “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4.19).

“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son…. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1.9-10, 13, 18).

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 4

This is part 4 of our quest on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, which comes from D.A. Carson’s book Praying with Paul. We have questions; the Bible has answers. We expect all of our questions to be answered. The Bible is a puzzle just waiting to be solved. We simply need to figure out all the pieces.

Not quite. We need to remember Deuteronomy 29.29 which says, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

There is mystery in God’s nature. Pieces of the puzzle we can’t always put together. One action that should we never try to do is to jam the pieces of the puzzle together to make them fit. Have you ever tried to piece together a real puzzle? These aren’t blueberries. Jamming never works.

We need to remember that mystery is not nonsense. God is infinite and we do not and will not understand everything there is to know about him.

What is ‘Freedom’?

Does “freedom” mean that we have the ability “to choose, to believe, to disobey,” and to not believe? Is it having the power to work outside of God’s sovereignty? For if God is sovereign, perhaps it does not matter what we do. All is inevitable. We know the end of the story and it will happen. And if our decisions are not ultimately ours, “how can we be held morally accountable” (135)?

Yet, as Carson points out, many theologians don’t define freedom as having power to act outside of God’s sovereignty. Pontius Pilate, Herod, and the rest conspired to kill Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what they did. Yet Revelation 13 tells us Christ was crucified before the foundations of the world… before Pilate, Herod, and the rest were even born.

What gives? They did what they wanted to do. Many theologians tie “freedom” to “desire, to what human beings voluntarily choose…. Joseph’s brothers did what they wanted to do; Herod and Pilate… did what they wanted to do; the Assyrians did what they wanted to do.” (135). God was working behind the scenes in each of these cases, but that does not erase the responsibility of the participants. They did what they wanted to do.

Standing Behind Good and Evil

Carson gives us two positions to avoid:

  1. Supposing that God does not stand (in any sense) behind evil.
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  2. Supposing that God stands behind good and evil in the exact same way.

The former would mean that when evil happens it is outside of God’s control. If he’s not behind the evil, then something else must be. There must be another power that is outside of God’s rule which challenges him. In philosophy this is called “Dualism,” and dualism is wrong. Which side will win? Good…or evil?

Let’s get ready to rumble.

But fortunately that is not the case.

View 2 holds that what God ordains takes place. He ordains good, then good takes place. He ordains evil, then evil takes place. If he doesn’t ordain it, then it doesn’t take place. But what happens if he stands behind both good and evil equally, or symmetrically? Then he is entirely amore. Powerful, but not good.

“The Bible’s witness will not let us accept either of these positions. The Bible insists God is sovereign, so sovereign that nothing that takes place in the universe can escape the outermost boundary of his control; yet the Bible insists God is good, unreservedly good, the very standard of goodness” (136).

We are driven to conclude that God does not stand behind good and evil in exactly the same way. In other words, he stands behind good and evil asymmetrically. He stands behind good in such a way that the good can ultimately be credited to him; he stands behind evil in such a way that what is evil is inevitably credited to secondary agents and all their malignant effects. They cannot escape his sway, in exactly the same way that Satan has no power over Job without God’s sanction; yet God remains mysteriously distant from the evil itself (136).

Another Way

God could be sovereign, but nothing more. In control, but a machine.

God could be personal, but nothing more. A kind friend, speaking and responding, but not very “transcendent.”

Rather, he is both transcendent and personal.

God is Transcendent

He exists above/beyond time and space, for he existed before the universe was created.

From his exalted position he sovereignly rules all creation, al nations, and all peoples.

God is Personal

He is a Father. He speaks. He spoke through his Son who came to earth to be with the likes of us. He suffered and was tempted in all points as we are, though without sin, and can sympathize with us (Heb 4.15). If I obey God’s command, I am obeying God, my Father in heaven. By believing in his Son, I too become his son.

Bearings On Prayer?

If God is sovereign, and we are morally responsible for our actions, if God is both transcendent and personal, if all of this involves some degree of mystery, how can we be so sure we’ll understand this correctly? How do we know we won’t fling off to one extreme side thinking it all makes so much sense?

To see how these truths function in our lives, we must read the Scriptures and see how these truths functioned in the lives of the believers there (138).

How Does x Function in Scripture?

1. Election

  • It’s not placed there to stop evangelism.
  • It emphasizes the wonder of grace (Jn 6.68-70; Rom 9).
  • It ensures “spiritual fruitfulness among God’s people” (Jn 15.16; p. 138).
  • It encourages perseverance in evangelism (Acts 18.9-10).

2. Exhortations to Believe and Obey

  • They don’t reduce God to being dependent on our actions.
  • They increase our responsibility (Gal 5.7; Col 1.23).
  • They emphasize the urgency of the steps we must take (2 Cor 13.5; ).
  • They show us what the proper response is to this kind of God (2 Tim 3.1-7; Titus 2.11-13; Heb 2.1-4).

3. The Repeated Truth of God’s Sovereign Providence

It’s never positioned in such a way to produce fatalism (An Eyore sort of “This is jus’ the way it’s goin’ t’be. Can’t do nuthin’ ’bout it.”)

  • It never allows us “to be morally indifferent on the ground that [we] can’t really help it anyway” (139).
  • It gives me reason for believing that everything is in God’s gracious control (Phil 1.6), with all things work out for the good of those who trust in him (Rom 8.28).

4. God’s Sovereignty in Passages of Prayer

  • The passages on prayer are never a disincentive to pray!
  • It forbids the wrong way of praying:
    • “Jesus forbids his followers from babbling like pagans who think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matt 6.8; p. 139).
    • Though this verse does not run against persevering in praying (Luke 11, 18).
  • In John 17.1 Jesus prays, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” Throughout John “the hour“ was the appointed time when the Father would glorify the Son (by way of the cross). When the “hour has come,” Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Alright, Dad. Youwill be done. I’m ready for this.” And God’s sovereignty certainly doesn’t breed a silent fatalism, one of sitting and waiting for the guards to bust the doors down and take Jesus away.
    • No, Jesus’ logic runs in this direction” “May Father’s appointed hour for the ‘glorification’ of his Son has arrived; so then, Father, glorify your Son” (139).

dilbert-free-will

Next Time

In my final post I will have a final case study on two characters who prayed at two special times: Daniel’s prayer for God to fulfill his promise in Daniel 9 and Moses who interceded for Israel after they committed idolatry with the golden calf.

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 3

Here’s Part 3 of our series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility taken from D. A. Carson’s Praying with Paul. There are seven passages that support both God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Last time I covered four passages (Gen 50:19-20; 2 Sam 24; Isa 10.5-19; Jn 6.37-40), and today I’ll cover the last three (Phil 2.12-13; Acts 18.9-10; Acts 4.23.30).

5. Philippians 2.12-13

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Paul isn’t telling his readers that God has pulled his weight, and now they must pull theirs. Nor does he tell them to “Let go and let God,” since it is ultimately all up to him. Paul tells the Philippians to work out their own salvation “precisely because it is God working in them, both at the level of their will and at the level of their actions…. Not only is the truth of our two propositions assumed, but God’s sovereignty, extending so far that it includes our will and our action, functions as an incentive to our own industry in the spiritual arena” (131).

We see that we work as God is working in us, and as God is working in us we will live to be pleasing to him, and we will want to do it.

6. Acts 18.9-10

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

Here, “God’s elections becomes an incentive to evangelism” (132). Paul’s opponents made it impossible to stay in Thessalonica, Berea, and everywhere else. Paul had it all: beatings, rods, whips, stones, storms, shipwrecks, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, long travels, and constant worry for the churches and the people in them. Paul didn’t need a vision of a sheet coming down from heaven, or a man from Macedonia speaking 2 him. He needed Jesus.

It’s encouraging to know that nobody will attack him, but the Lord didn’t stop there. No one will attack Paul to harm him for (or ‘because’) the Lord had “many in this city who are [the Lord’s] people.” Paul has the promise of many conversions, promised under God’s election, and of protection. Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half during his first trip there.

Carson says, “God’s sovereignty in election, far from discouraging evangelism, becomes an incentive to get on with the task. Once again, both of our propositions are assumed to be true” (133).

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And finally, the kicker, “the most revealing of the seven” (133).

7. Acts 4.23-30

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​‘Why did the Gentiles rage, ​​​​​​​and the peoples plot in vain? ​​​​​​​​​​The kings of the earth set themselves, ​​​​​​​and the rulers were gathered together, ​​​​​​​against the Lord and against his Anointed’- ​​​for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

After being arrested, Peter and John tells the Christians in Jerusalem about their experience which leads them all to prayer. They confess God’s sovereignty, over the universe and over the nations, even those which rebel against him (Ps 2.2). In that psalm, though “the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One,” the “One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them” (Ps 2.4).

After having quoted Psalm 2.2 and mentioned the rulers standing against God and his Anointed One, they think of the most shocking instance of this blatant rebellion: the crucifixion. They go on. The blame is “laid at the feet of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and various Gentile and Jewish authorities, and then they add ‘They did what you power and will had decided beforehand should happen’” (Acts 4.28; p. 134).

Carson brings up two alternative thoughts that, if truly believed, would destroy “the fabric of the Christian faith” (134).

  1. The cross was an afterthought in God’s mind. God had Plan A, but once these screwballs messed things up, he had to set Plan B into action. The result was the atonement of Christ on the cross.
    ff
  2. If God is so sovereign that the conspirators merely did what God’s “power and will had decided beforehand should happen, then surely they are not guilty?

But Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty incurred by all sinners. If they are not held guilty for this act, “why should they be held responsible for any act? And if they are not held responsible, then why should God have sent his Anointed One to die in their place” (134)?

Finally, Carson concludes by saying, “God is absolutely sovereign, yet his sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility and accountability; human beings are morally responsible creatures, yet this fact in no way jeopardizes the sovereignty of God. At Calvary, all Christians have to concede the truth of these two statements, or they give up their claim to be Christians” (134).

Conclusion

Hopefully you can get a glimpse of what is both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in these seven passages. I would encourage comments or questions dealing with these and other passages.

But our next questions is this, “Does God stand behind good and evil equally? Would that make him amoral? What does this have to do with prayer? What is my incentive?”

Mario

So… until next time…

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 2

Here’s the second part (part one here) of my series on God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility taken from D. A. Carson’s Praying with Paul. There are seven passages that support both God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, and I’ll cover four today and three next time.

1. Genesis 50:19-20

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.’”

After the death of their father, Jacob’s son come to Joseph and plead with him not to take revenge on them. Big Joe, recognizing God’s hand through the whole situation (not to mention his life) tells them that God has intended this situation for good the entire time.

To understand what Joseph is saying, Carson gives two responses which Joe does not say:

  • “Look, miserable sinners, you hatched and executed this wicked plot, and if it hadn’t been for God coming in at the last moment, it would have gone far worse for me than it did.”
    f
  • “God’s intention was to send me down to Egypt with first-class treatment, but you wretched reprobates threw a wrench into his plans and caused me a lot of suffering” (128).

Joseph had dreams of the brothers bowing down to him. Joseph’s brothers sold him off. In God’s sovereignty he raised up Joseph and saved millions of people during te famine years, but it does not excuse the brothers’ evil. And their evil plot does not shrink God’s sovereignty, making his power subject to their decisions. Both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are to be assumed true.

2. 2 Samuel 24

v1-4

Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel….”

v10-12

“But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Snd when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and say to David, ‘’Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’”

In his anger over Israel, God stirs up David to take a census of the people. After David numbers up Israel, an act previously forbidden, his hearts strikes him with guilt and he must chose one of three severe judgments that God will deliver. The result: seventy thousand people die.

In reading this, we must remember what the Bible says about God.

Deuteronomy 32.4, The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
1 John 1.5, This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
Revelation 15.3-4, And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.’”

But there are other cases like 2 Samuel 24 “where God is presented as in some way behind the evil.” The evil does not simply slip past God’s eyes, leaving him to say, “Whoops!”

2 Thessalonians 2.11, Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false,
1 Kings 22.21, Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

1 Chronicles 21 tells us that it is Satan, not God, who incites David to sin. Is this a contradiction, or is it merely different perspectives? In Job, does God afflict Job, or does Satan? All of the above?

The Point

“God is presented as sovereign over David’s life, including this particular sin in his life, while David himself is not thereby excused” (129).

[Interestingly, Michael Heiser says the 1 Chronicles passage doesn’t say it is Satan (which means adversary). The Hebrew says that it is not the satan (adversary),” but a satan” (or “an adversary”). A cross-reference to this would be Num 22.22, where Satan does not oppose Balaam. No, the adversary here is the Angel of Yahweh. Could this be the same thing here in 1 Chronicles?]

3. Isaiah 10.5-19

In a judgment on Assyria, Yahweh says, “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; ​​​​​​​the staff in their hands is my fury! ​​​​​​​​​​Against a godless nation I send him, ​​​​​​​and against the people of my wrath I command him, ​​​​​​​to take spoil and seize plunder, ​​​​​​​and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” (10.5-6).

God is sending the Assyrians against his own covenant-keeping (sometimes) community because he is angry at their sin. Still yet, God pronounces a “woe” on the Assyrians for their mission. How can they be punished if they’re following God’s command? Simply because they think Samaria and Jerusalem are some other pagan towns that they’re going to take over. “They think they are doing this all by themselves” (130).

God uses this military superpower as if it were a simple tool – a saw or an ax – to accomplish his purposes of judgment (10.15-16). But Assyria is not absolved of their “willful pride” or their “haughty look” (10.12). The stench of their sin fills the nostrils of Yahweh, and they too will be punished for their sin. They are held responsible.

4. John 6.37-40

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (6.37).

In reading verse 37, all of God’s chosen people area gift to the Son, and once the Son receives them he will keep them in and never drive them away.

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (6.38-39).

God is seen as sovereign in the process of salvation. His people are given by him to the Son “who preserves them to the last day when (he promises) he will raise them up” (131). Does this make Christians robots? No, for the next verse describes believers by what they do.

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6.40).

Next Time

In Part 3 of our series I’ll cover the last three passages (Phil 2.12-13; Acts 18.9-10; Acts 4.23.30).

Praying with Paul: God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Part 1

I’m reading Praying with Paul by D. A. Carson, a book on spiritual reformation. Carson looks at some of Paul’s prayers to see what makes Paul tick. What sets him off to pray, and what for? How does he pray “without ceasing”?

One thing many Christians hear is, “Prayer changes things?” Oh yeah? Well, if God is sovereign, how does prayer change anything? If he’s so sovereign, aren’t we “mere puppets” (123)? Some people don’t pray because God is sovereign, so there’s no reason to pray (according to them). If we pray, then it was ordained. If we don’t pray, then it was ordained. Or perhaps we’ll pray, but God is a bit distant. Or he’s not very powerful. Or…

Carson says, “Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer; something is amiss in our theology if our theology becomes a disincentive to pray” (125).

God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Carson begins this section by articulating two truths, both of which are found in Scripture:

1. God’s Sovereignty

God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in Scripture to reduce human responsibility.

Proverbs 16.33, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
Proverbs 16.4, The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Psalm 115.2-3, Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Psalm 135.6, Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.“
Jeremiah 10.23, I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.
Matthew 6.26, Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Matthew 6.30, But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Ephesians 1.11, In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Yet, in a mysterious way, “without being tainted with evil himself” God stands behind un-fortunes such as (127):

Unintentional Manslaughter (Exodus 21.13)
Family Misfortune (Ruth 1.13)
National Disaster (Isaiah 45.6-7)
Personal Grief (Lamentations 3.32-33, 37-38)
and even, Sin (2 Samuel 24.1; 1 Kings 22.21ff)

2. Human Responsibility

Human beings are responsible creatures – that is, they choose, they believe, they disobey, they respond, and there is moral significance in their choices; however, human responsibility never functions in Scripture to diminish God’s sovereignty or to make God absolutely contingent (126).

“God himself offers moving pleas to incite us to repentance, because he finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked“ (127).

Joshua 24.14-15, Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Isaiah 30.18, Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 65.2, I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;

Ezekiel 18.30-32, Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Ezekiel 33.11, Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Romans 10.9, 11, because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”

Yet none of this cancels God’s sovereignty. Paul quotes Exodus 33.19 to prove that “God has mercy on those whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9.18).

Next Time

Carson gives seven passages where both of these truths come into play. But it looks like we’ve run out of space. You’ll have to come back next time and see if I’ve won more space.