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Jun 29, 2005



It seemed to me that tenor of our conversation on Sunday leaned towards the assumption that God's choices, preferences, or mercies are arbitrary. They might be; we obviously usually don't understand them. I would submit, however, that even with reading Paul in Romans 9, the tendency to assume that God has his reasons, that underneath the surface of the story there is more that God understands, is no more of a groundless assumption than assuming that God arbitrarily metes out justice, mercy, and blessings. And to say that God has a reason is not to say that reason must be a person's merit, effort, or desire! God's statement, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion," and the Book of Job (my favorite book of scripture) speak more to the fact that we have no right to tell God how he should act than they say that God necessarily acts inconsistently or arbitrarily. The Book of Job gives the middle finger to the practice of trying to pull out stock answers to explain God and God's actions, but God never says that his actions or mercies are haphazardly chosen.
God is God, and as humans, we can't possibly understand him wholly. God is under no obligation to fulfill our expectations or what we think we need him to be. We will never fully understand his character or his actions. I do want us to remember, however, that a default characterization of God as inconsistant or arbitrary is equally as presumptive and limiting as a characterization of God as consistent and acting according to a good character of love, albeit beyond our understanding.

Don Taylor

These are good points that Elizabeth makes. As I reflect on her points, it makes me think back to my reading through the OT recently when God was laying out in horrible detail how to build the temple in terms of measurements, materials, etc. etc. My first blush was to think of this as arbitrary and bizarre behavior on God's part, whereas it may be simply a signal that God's ways are not always fathomable to us, but that doesn't mean they don't have a reason or purpose.


Great comments, Elizabeth. I agree with you that God is consistent and understanding in His person and character - that God's actions are not arbitrary as if God wakes up each day and acts on whatever whim might hit him. Sorry if it seemed as if this was the portrayal of God from Sunday night.

I hope that the "point" - if there was one - was that our inability to grasp the mind of God leads us to worship God in awe instead of curse God's mystery. I believe that God is at once perfectly and wholly just and perfectly and wholly merciful. Now, I might be abel to comprehend what the world would look like if I were God and chose to act only justly (albeit with my own warped sense of justice), and let me just say, it wouldn't include a whole lot of mercy. At the same time, I might be able to imagine what would happen if I were God and chose to be perfectly merciful (again, the perfection of mercy being highly suspicious). Yet I can in no way fathom perfect justice and perfect mercy living in harmony without contradiction - yet this is Who God Is. That leads me to worship God because it seems that this arrangement is ideal. However, I could just as easily complain that because I can't see from my perspective how this works or understand why God's decisions don't always make sense to me that I choose to reject God and instead pine away for some sort of diety of my own making that acts according to my wishes. May it never be.


I don't think we can know if God is always purposeful or only sometimes. And without knowing for sure in every instance, we have to be comfortable with either possibility. If God were arbitrary, would he be less worthy of our praise? The one thing we can be sure of is that God is good and that whether He acts with purpose or at random, He can and will accomplish a good act in us. The more I recognize all kinds of uncertainties in my life, this point of faith is a key factor for me to engage in worship rather than fear. If we focus on this point, isn't Jacob and Esau's story a reflection of God's complete goodness? After all, isn't Esau blessed equally by the provisions that God made for the redemption of humanity (the creation of the circumstance for Christ's life, death, and resurrection). But we have to let go of the earthly blessing or God might look bad whether he's acting on purpose or at random.

Paul M. Martin

One of my favorite lines in the Bible is when God says to Job from out of the whirlwind: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" In this case, patient and long suffering Job has finally just had it, and starts complaining about the inconsistency that God should allow a truly good man to suffer so horribly.

That's how God shuts him up. Basically, by telling Job how little he knows.

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