Sunday, October 20, 2013

Does God have a kind benevolence toward all who receive good things from Him?

Maybe you can think about this more if I refer to a few Scriptures, and ask a few questions: "For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." (I Tim. 4:4-5). What if we receive good things from God without giving thanks for these things? We can find forgiveness only in Christ. But does this tell us what God's attitude is toward the recipient when He gives a person a good thing, whom He knows (according to His eternal determinate counsel) will not give thanks for it?

If the greatest good gifts are not given in benevolence, what of the lesser gifts? Would a less good gift be given with more benevolence or less? Would no gifts be the greatest benevolence? "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." (Rom. 3:1-2; cf. Rom 9:4-5) Can you conceive of a greater gift apart from salvation itself, than what the Jews received which the Gentiles did not? And yet which will receive the greater condemnation? "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee. At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight." (Matt. 11:21-26) Isn't hearing the gospel a very good gift? But what is God's attitude in preaching it to the impenitent?

Consider God's attitude toward the recipients of such marvellous good gifts in His purpose for them and their receipt of these things: "What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded. (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway." (Rom. 11:7-10). These words, quoted from a Psalm of David, are also the words of Christ concerning those who betrayed and crucified Him (centrally Judas, but also the unbelieving Jews - to which they are applied in Romans 11 - and also by extension to all apostates or hypocrites). Therefore we find in the attitude of Christ toward those to whom He gives such good things: "Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap." Is there a kind benevolence toward those who receive the wonderful gifts here?

Christ Himself is the greatest most wonderful gift: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ..." (John 3:16). As a good and precious gift, what is the attitude and purpose of God in giving Him or presenting Him to those who refuse to believe, to those who take Him and crucify Him? "And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken." (Isa. 8:14-15). "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." (I Pet. 2:6-8)

Practically how is the comfort of a good breeze on a hot day very different to the comfort of full table when hungry? But we know that specifically the table is a snare to those who are not in Christ. "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:" (Psalm 92:7) What is the purpose of God in giving earthly benefits to the wicked according to this verse? Consider also Psalm 73 and 37. I think that should provide sufficient ground for understanding the truth about the idea of a general benevolence of God - which after all is historically what the pagans of the Roman empire liked to believe in, not the "hard God" of the Christians. It is not a general benevolence of God toward wicked men revealed in the created things, but rather: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened." (Rom. 1:18-21) This is the content of the witness of God against the heathen in the dark days (for the Gentiles) of the Old Testament: "Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." (Acts 14:15-17) If a good comforting breeze is therefore given as a witness of the good God against the unthankful idolatrous unbeliever, how can it be sent in a kind benevolence?

There are many more simple theological reasons which could be added: how could a general benevolence be compatible with God's eternal decree of predestination? Is it not mockery to claim to be kind to someone whom you have determined beforehand to send to eternal torment in hell? God doesn't send mixed messages. He is simple and in perfect peace and harmony within Himself. He does not have mercy for a few days, and then decide to throw you into hell. What comfort could we then find in the knowledge of His mercy or benevolence toward us? Rather, His mercy endures forever. He does not change, and therefore His attitude toward us does not change. If He had benevolence toward the wicked in this present earthly life, He would therefore continue to have benevolence toward them in hell. But we know that God even refuses to give good gifts to those in hell: "And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." (Luke 16:24-26).

If the wicked do not heed the witness of these good things, they therefore receive them to their condemnation, to the accumulation of evil things to be received when they end up in the lake of fire. That is the terrible judgement and righteously discriminating wrath of God - with which benevolence is incompatible.

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