Jesus and Satan arm-wrestling

The Most Serious of Games

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I am acutely aware of the seriousness of faith. The major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) are all concerned with salvation, and how we can be “right with God”. If there is a God who has created this vast universe, as I am convinced there is, then His power to bring salvation or damnation is of the utmost importance and we are right to fear Him.

It is this fear of God which has led me to study religion in depth. In my adult life I have made it my mission to understand more about God and religion, and to try to ascertain what truth is and how I can live in the best possible way. I’m still learning, and the more I explore the more I realise the vast range of opinions that exist in matters that are of huge theological importance.

Heaven and HellIf heaven and hell exist, and if only one religious path leads to salvation, then many billions of people will be damned to hell. The reason I find this concept difficult is because I believe God is completely in control of our lives and our destinies. The idea that God would judge people for actions which He has freely undertaken (to unfold our lives in a certain way) is problematic as we can have done nothing freely to warrant God’s wrath. As a caveat to this, I must point out that it is not my place to judge God, and I don’t deny He has the power and authority to do whatever He chooses, even if damning certain people to hell might seem cruel or unfair to my human understanding.

I find it difficult to understand those who believe that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, but at the same time argue that we have free will. It is so clear to me that we do not have free will. We do not take the decision to be born. We do not choose to grow from nothing into babies and then toddlers and then teenagers and then adults. We do not choose the colour of our skin or our eyes. We do not choose how our organs are arranged in our bodies. We do not choose our parents, or our siblings. We do not choose to make our hearts beat, or our blood flow. We do not choose to grow our nails or our hair. We do not choose our dreams when we sleep. We do not choose to digest our food and drink.

In the same way, we don’t choose which thoughts will arise in our minds. If you believe you are in control of your thoughts then tell me, what is a thought? How do you make thoughts arise in your mind? What will you be thinking about in an hour’s time, or at this time next year? If you say thoughts are caused by your subconscious, then please explain what this subconscious is and who or what is in control of it. If you think that you are merely a product of evolution, then please explain what is the cause of this evolution. If you believe we exist due to a set of mathematical laws, then please explain why these laws exist. And tell me, why does anything exist at all?

What causes the seed to grow into a flower? What causes the tree to sprout up from the earth and grow its branches and its fruit? My friend, when you pray for good weather, a fruitful harvest, or a new job, are you not praying to a God who is in control? Do you really not see that God is in control of all things?

The Fall of ManAnd yet still, there are those who attempt to argue that God only does good things; that He is not in control of your ailments and your diseases; your very life and death. There are those who argue that God blesses them with a husband or wife, or a tasty meal, or a new job, but then deny that it is also God who causes the divorce, or the food poisoning, or the redundancy. Friend, can’t you see the hypocrisy in this way of thinking? Surely you know, if you are honest with yourself, that God is in control of all those things which you call “good” and all those things which you call “evil”.

I hear you arguing that your holy scriptures talk about the devil as the cause of evil in the world. Friend, do not be naive. Have you really thought in depth about what the devil is? I would like to know some attributes of this creature. Where does he dwell exactly? Does he live within a creaturely body? Is he able to somehow insert thoughts into your mind? Surely he would have to be omnipresent in order to control our thoughts. What are his powers? What does he control in contrast with what God controls? Please, give me some insights into Satan and his powers, and let those insights be rational!

If the devil exists, he must be under God’s control, as everything is. To argue against this would be to deny God’s omnipresence. The myth of the fall, and the entire Christian story, are based on the idea that we have free will, which we do not. How can it be said that we are sinners, when all of our sin is willed by God?

If you’re still not convinced, my friends, I’d like to invite you to undertake a simple exercise. Take a sheet of paper, divide it into three columns, and label the columns ‘God’, ‘Satan’, and ‘Human’. Then under each of those headings proceed to list the things of which each of the three persons is in control. We might call this ‘The Will Game’. You could even put certain activities into more than one column. My intention is to encourage you to think deeply about the cause of activity in existence, in the microcosm and the macrocosm.

heaven stairwayNow I do not wish to offend my Almighty God and Father, whom I kneel to in prayer each and every day. I do not wish to offend the God who has power to make me suffer in every moment for all eternity. Heavens, that is the last thing I wish to do! I am driven to speak the truth in accordance with my convictions, and may you, my friends, persuade me otherwise if I am wrong! I cannot argue that God is in control, as I have done here, and then deny that my convictions come from God. God must be willing me to write this article or I wouldn’t be doing so. The Lord knows full well that I am merely a puppet in His hands!

Perhaps I am in dangerous territory. Could it be that by speaking so openly about the truth that I perceive, I am participating in my own downfall? This worries me greatly. I don’t know whether the Christian story is so beloved by God that anyone who questions it is guilty of a grave sin. I can believe that the Christian story is God’s game that He has chosen to play over the last two thousand years, and maybe it is a great sin to shed light on the errors and inconsistencies in this great story which has produced so many saints and martyrs.

I write not to argue against God but to convey what God has revealed to me. I am a lonely voice in a world where either people have forsaken God in their atheism or they hold blindly to a set of doctrines and defend them at all costs. People are quick to say who will be saved and who will be damned, but I do not claim to have such knowledge, despite what any particular scripture says! I have a hope that God is ultimately merciful to every sentient being, and I do pray that God chooses mercy over damnation for all of us, regardless of our beliefs – beliefs which He has bestowed upon us!

Lord, forgive me if I have sinned in writing this article. You know my heart. You know that I hate doing anything that annoys or angers you. I know that if this article speaks to anyone, it will be through your Spirit working in the minds of those who read. I ask, Lord, that you would show these people only what is true, and that you would save their minds from any thoughts you would consider blasphemous. May your truth and your will prosper, Lord!

52 comments

  1. Thank you Jan!

    I saw a consultant today (Mon. 15/08/16) and he admitted that mum should not have been discharged so quickly after her last stay (4-9/8/16) – she still has pneumonia. She is now on Tazocin, the newest drug for treating infections that resist other agents.

    Love,
    Dinos

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  2. Dinos, please keep us all informed of yours and your mum’s progress. Please try not to worry too much. Your mum is obviously in the best place re professional monitoring etc.
    One of my grandaughters is a nurse in the Churchill hospital in Oxford and is devoted to caring for others…as your mum’s nurses will be for her.

    On another note: Did you or Steven or Gregg hear about certain people who have proved they are directly descended from King David and have instructed lawyers in claiming ownership of The Temple Mount…which King David actually bought and paid for. It somehow brings end times prophecy a little bit closer; does it not?

    Best
    Jan

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  3. Hi Steven and all!

    Steven, since this relates to: Free will, or not, I would be interested to know your thoughts on this question posed by a contributor to ‘Ebible’ and the answer given by a Bible teacher/Theologian. Needless-to-say, this same theologian insists that the 10 Commandments were abolished at Christ’s death, and I do not.

    Was Judas Iscariot saved/ forgiven?

    The Bible clearly indicates that Judas was not saved. Jesus Himself said of Judas, “The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24). Here is a clear picture of the sovereignty of God and the will of man working together. God had, from ages past, determined that Christ would be betrayed by Judas, die on the cross for our sins, and be resurrected. This is what Jesus meant when He said He would “go just as it is written about him.” Nothing would stop the plan of God to provide salvation for mankind.However, the fact that it was all foreordained does not excuse Judas or absolve him from the punishment he would suffer for his part in the drama. Judas made his own choices, and they were the source of his own damnation. Yet the choices fit perfectly into the sovereign plan of God. God controls not only the good, but also the evil of man to accomplish His own ends. Here we see Jesus condemning Judas, but considering that Judas travelled with Jesus for nearly three years, we know He also gave Judas ample opportunity for salvation and repentance. Even after his dreadful deed, Judas could have fallen on his knees to beg God’s forgiveness. But he did not. He may have felt some remorse born of fear, which caused him to return the money to the Pharisees, but he never repented, preferring instead to commit suicide, the ultimate act of selfishness (Matthew 27:5-8).In John 17:12, Jesus prays concerning His disciples, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.” At one time, though, Judas believed that Jesus was a prophet, or possibly even believed He was the Messiah. Jesus sent the disciples out to proclaim the gospel and perform miracles (Luke 9:1-6). Judas was included in this group. Judas had faith, but it was not a true saving faith. Judas was never “saved,” but for a time he was a follower of Christ.

    Best

    Jan

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    1. Hi Jan!

      Many thanks for sharing this comment from the Bible teacher on the eBible website.

      It seems that this teacher is a compatibilist, as he/she says “Here is a clear picture of the sovereignty of God and the will of man working together.” You may recall that we recently discussed compatibilism in this post.

      My problem with compatibilism is that divine sovereignty and human free will are logically contradictory. I don’t believe it’s possible to say both that God was in control of the actions of Judas, and Judas freely chose his own course of action. It’s interesting that the commenter used the word ‘drama’ to describe the betrayal of Jesus, as that is a very telling word. I believe the whole of creation is indeed a drama under God’s control (I sometimes describe it as God’s ‘theatre’ or ‘play’; the important point being that God is directing everything). The way I make sense of this is to say that as humans we have ‘dependent responsibility’, meaning that we appear to make choices and decisions freely but in reality those choices and decisions are under God’s control. Our ‘free will’ is a mode of the human mind that God directs and is really an illusion.

      So Judas was under God’s control, and thus was not free. How, then, can we say Judas is culpable for the betrayal of Jesus and will be damned to hell? As I often say it is not my place to judge God, and because He is omnipotent and omnipresent, He has the power to damn anyone to hell that He so chooses. But God sending people to hell for things that God has chosen for them to do seems somewhat puzzling, and is one of my major problems with the Christian faith. Does God really judge His own action? Well, perhaps yes – if that is a part of the ‘drama’ or ‘play’ that God is unfolding.

      The reason most Christians won’t deny that we have free will is largely, I believe, due to the issue of sin. The whole idea of the forgiveness of sins and Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for sin makes little sense if God is in control of man’s will. Once again, it only makes sense if sin (and the whole redemptive process) is part of God’s ‘game of life’.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

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  4. Hello readers!

    My view is that all creatures come into existence according to God’s will. If I’m right, then this applied to Judas too. Let’s not forget that Judas was one of Jesus’ twelve disciples. If it would be better for him if he had not been born, and Jesus knew that, why did He choose him as one of His disciples? Are we to believe that this was the only way that the Trinity could imagine to cause Christ to be flogged and crucified?

    The accounts in Matthew and Mark are very similar, but Luke did not write that it would have been better if he [Judas] had not been born! See the comparison below, taken from the KJV of the Bible online –

    Mt 26:24
    The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.

    Mk 14:21
    The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.

    Lk 22:22
    And truly the Son of man goeth, as it was determined: but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!

    I confess that I could not find a reference about the betrayal in John’s gospel, although it may be there?

    I found an interesting philosophical piece on the problem of evil and you can access it from the link below –

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Problem_of_evil

    I’m not one for judging other people, nor for giving them dire warnings of the possibility of hell; surely that’s God’s business and I’m not alone in thinking that God saves us – that we do not buy our way into a heavenly after-life through our beliefs and by following all the commandments. The best we can do is to love God and each other.

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

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  5. Hi Steven, Dinos and all!

    The reason I feel Steven’s post on, Compatibilism, is so brilliant is because it really highlights things not before noticed; opens up things not previously ‘deeply’ delved into (By me in any case!) concerning God’s Word, thus invoking a much deeper study of it.

    I don’t know if you agree with me, Steven, but doesn’t Exodus Chapters 3 and 4 show Compatibilism and AND free will?

    Moses did not want the job of pleading with Pharoah and argued with God at least 7 times against him having to go, and with as many excuses…indicating Moses ‘at least believed’ he had a choice. God actually had to entice Moses by assuring him of a good outcome. Had Moses not had a choice, no such conversation would have taken place.
    By the same token, God hardened Pharoah’s heart so that he would not let the Iraelites go …so although Pharoah had no choice what-so-ever, he was punished unmercifully; resulting in God taking the life of Pharoah’s child on top of everything else.

    The thing is, to my mind, deeper study appears only to reveal more of God’s actual character…which appears fearsome to say the least…and at present, I am baffled as to how this might bring us closer to God except through fear!

    On the surface, I find this disheartening to say the least. For some unknown reason though, Steven, I cannot believe God is merely playing a game as that would render Him cruel and vicious without justification, when His Word tells us throughout that He is ‘just’. I find it hard to believe the Apostles would have followed in the footsteps of/ given their own lives for ‘One’ seemingly so callous and unmerciful.

    There is also the minor thing (Minor considering the vast and varied means of control over individuals God has at His disposal) of bad habits/ vices that could be fatal…smoking for instance. We are free to choose whether or not we smoke. I do not believe that God predestines smokers to smoke as a means of ending their particular lives at His chosen time because, in no way would God demean Himself by such pathetic interferance.

    Which brings me to the question of vices as a whole…which are a tool of satan, not God.
    Idol worship is a vice detestable to God and He sent many Prophets/ Apostles to warn idol worshippers away from such evil. Surely they were not pre-destined to worship idols as a subsequent means of God ending their lives. Were it all to be just a game, God being answerable to no-one could just have wiped them out instead of sending appointed others to show them the error of their ways… giving them a choice. I find it hard to believe God induced them to worship idols to justify their deaths!

    You might argue that, that is exactly what God did to Pharoah; and you’d be right. But then I could argue that, to my mind, Pharoah was a powerful individual influencing the lives and minds of 1,000’s of others and therefore, a perfect and significant tool in God’s hands if we look for justification of God’s motives at that point in His Almighty plan. The Israelites needed convincing ‘because of their free will’ and Pharoah was the means by which God brought it about.

    What would have been the point of Moses and the 10 Commandments during his 40 years in guiding the Israelites to the Promised Land (Aparently a shadow of our own walk through life with all it’s hardships, heartache and temptation) if not as a means of testing the people…which is what it actually achieved. Exodus: Ch. 4 v’s 28 – 31
    If they hadn’t had free will, why would there have been any need in putting them to the test at all?

    Having said all this, the thing I can’t get my head round, is why wonderful Moses was forbidden entry into The Promised Land because some of the Isaelites made a golden Idol to worship…while he was up getting the 10 Commandments!!! He wasn’t there to stop them so why was he blamed? Since that bit shakes my faith in God’s justice somewhat, please could one of you enlighten me on the reasons why you think God punished Moses despite he wasn’t there to even witness the making of the idol until it was too late. Aaron was left in charge and he was the one who gave in to the Israelites demands; not Moses.

    Best

    Jan

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    1. Hi Jan,

      I don’t want to repeat my arguments concerning our lack of free will as I have explained them in depth in recent blog posts and comments and in my books and I’m not sure how much more there is to say. But in response to your comment I just want to make a couple of points.

      You wrote the following:

      I don’t know if you agree with me, Steven, but doesn’t Exodus Chapters 3 and 4 show Compatibilism AND free will?

      I think you might be misunderstanding compatibilism. It is the idea that divine sovereignty and free will exist together. So saying ‘compatibilism and free will’ doesn’t make sense. Hopefully you see the point I’m trying to make.

      I also just wanted to comment on ‘predestination’ seeing as you mentioned it. I don’t believe God preprogrammed the universe and is now just sitting back and watching it unfold. I believe in a ‘present moment’, living God, who in this very moment is causing everything that is happening to happen. That’s why I refer to God as the ‘cosmic animator’. This is different from predestination, and I hope you can see the distinction. I don’t deny that God could have planned things long ago, but I don’t believe in the kind of ‘clockwork’ universe that some scientists talk about.

      Yes, God is in control of both good and evil and smokers and non-smokers – all is God and all that happens is His will! You seem to be saying that in the case of Pharaoh God was in control, but in the case of the Israelites worshiping idols they were expressing free will. Are you suggesting God is sovereignly in control of some people and not others? Does that really make sense?

      Just a few things to ponder.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

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  6. Hi Jan!

    The link below explains why Moses was denied entry into The Promised Land –

    http://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-promised-land.html

    It makes me wonder how Moses caused the water to spring from the rock if he had not followed God’s instructions? Moses struck it twice with his staff instead of speaking to it, which suggests that the staff of Moses was itself endowed with supernatural powers!

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

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  7. Thank you Dinos and Steven!

    It seems a very harsh punishment for Moses’ one mistake, seeing as he’d been given such a mammoth task.
    I was always under the ‘misguided’ impression he’d been denied access to the Promised Land due to the Israelite’s building, then worshiping the idol!

    And no, Steven, I’m not saying, God is in control sovereignly over some people and not others. And I didn’t intend zooming in on free will again other than to mean, yes, I believe Sovereign control and free will exist together but only as far as it suits God’s overall purpose for mankind…the end times, future.

    So, yes, free will might be defined by some, as illusory because what I’m trying to say rather inarticulately is, it appears that God CHOOSES only to exert control over certain prominent figures (Whom He put in place/ assigned in any case) and significant key factors, at certain times, in light of His Almighty overall plan for mankind’s future salvation.

    Despite having overall control over every living thing (God sees every bird that falls from the tree) God appears to give mankind free will…the Israelites in choosing to worship idols, for example…Moses choosing to strike the rock twice instead of once …in order to test the obedience and perseverance of human beings; all of which, must have been previously planned/ predestined (the overall, Almighty plan, that is) otherwise, how could prophecy be possible?

    In a number of places in God’s Word it tells us that certain individuals were chosen by God for certain of His future tasks /or ‘called’ whilst they were in the womb! Ephesians Ch. 1 v’s 1 – 11. Surely, that is predestination?

    Or, am I still barking up the wrong tree?

    Best

    Jan

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    1. Hi Jan!

      I agree that prophecy is only possible if God is in control.

      In a number of places in God’s Word it tells us that certain individuals were chosen by God for certain of His future tasks /or ‘called’ whilst they were in the womb! Ephesians Ch. 1 v’s 1 – 11. Surely, that is predestination?

      Yes, I agree, this is predestination! And I don’t deny that God may well predestine certain things, although I disagree with those who argue that it’s impossible for God to change His mind.

      Best wishes,

      Steven

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  8. Hello readers!

    Jan – I think you may not have read the article in the link properly –

    http://www.gotquestions.org/Moses-promised-land.html

    It wasn’t that Moses struck the rock twice instead of once; he wasn’t meant to strike it at all, but to speak to it. Also, it appears that Moses took the credit for this miracle, rather than to ascribe the credit properly to God.

    I have read an interesting study on choice, or the number of options we are presented with, and I’m reminded of the proliferation of channels on TV and yet we have difficulty in finding a program worth watching. The link is below –

    Click to access Choice%20Chapter.Revised.pdf

    It,s quite lengthy, so I’ve pasted an impotant extract from it here –

    “What assessments of well-being suggest is that the most important factor in providing happiness is close social relations. People who are married, who have good friends, and who are close to their families are happier than those who are not. In the context of a discussion of choice and autonomy, it is important to note that, in many ways, social ties actually decrease freedom, choice, and autonomy. Marriage, for example, is a commitment to a particular other person that curtails freedom of choice of sexual, and even emotional partners. And to be someone’s friend is to undertake weighty responsibilities and obligations that at times may limit your own freedom. So, counterintuitive as it may appear, what seems to contribute most to happiness binds people rather than liberating them.”

    This extract from a secular study seems to affirm the wisdom of the second of The Great Commandments.

    Peace and love to all,

    Dinos

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  9. I don’t want to address most of this post, because I don’t particularly agree with a lot of it – although it is rather consistent and I appreciate that. There is nothing that systematically theology is if not consistent.

    But I don’t think you have do worry about annoying or angering God. He’s not angry with you and he won’t be.

    Peace.

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    1. Hello! Do feel free to comment on those aspects of the post you disagree with as it’s always good to discuss these things.

      In any case, I wish you well, and thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

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  10. Steven,

    Wow, you really got a discussion (and prayer requests – that was awesome!) going with this post. JT really said what is my own response, and that is that I rest in what Scripture reveals as opposed to my own reasoning ability. We can’t even reason ourselves off this planet very far (except in movies), so considering the vastness of this universe, what does our ability to reason really amount to?

    When you undermine the supremacy of Scripture by placing it along side any other religion and saying it’s the same, well, then yes, you pretty much get what you describe. I don’t believe it belongs there. I have spent much of my life studying the origins of various writings considered sacred, and the Bible is truly different. Statistically, quantitatively, qualitatively, and even considering the stories of its transmission and development along side those of other faiths the Scriptures considered canon by Christians are truly different. And I believe they are superior in a way that can only be explained by divine intervention in their history.

    But I accept that other disagree with me, and that’s fine. But I find a tremendous amount of freedom in knowing I don’t have to know everything, not everything has to make sense (figure a platypus, seriously, it’s not possible to do so seriously). I find the oddities of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures make a tremendous amount of sense considering how inexplicable this universe truly is. I really like that.

    By the way, that exercise of putting stuff in various columns delineating control wasn’t as hard as you made it out to be. And you actually answer your own question about Scripture when you admit that you don’t really understand God. That’s exactly why we have to rely on what He reveals about Himself rather than our own understanding. Relying on your own understanding makes no sense. Who says all these “omni’s” about God? What does God say about Himself? Why does it have to be omni this or that? All He really says is that He’s inexplicable from our own ability to figure stuff out, so rely on what He reveals. What’s so difficult there? If the problem in in selecting a set of sacred Scripture, consider the vast differences between their origins, transmissions, and textual support. It’s really pretty amazing. You sort of have to want to not believe the Bible really. On its own it stands shockingly solid.

    That’s my two cents, not that you haven’t already gained vast sums already from the comments preceding mine.

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    1. Hi Matt,

      Many thanks for your thoughts! I wish I found it as easy as you to dismiss the contradictions, paradoxes, and problems that I find in Christianity. In a sense, it would be so much easier for me if I could just believe everything that I read in the Bible and live by it. But when I attend church services and people are talking with great confidence about the attacks of ‘the enemy’ and such, it just leaves me with a deep sense of unease – as though in believing these things I am being dishonest with myself. I hope you understand.

      Am definitely curious to see what you did with my challenge to divide ‘who controls what’ into three columns. Feel free to share (if you wish) as I and other readers might find this helpful.

      I will continue to read the Bible every day and explore commentaries etc to aid my understanding, and will keep praying for spiritual guidance and direction as I have done for years. I’m so appreciative of the Internet and that we are able to have these kinds of discussions.

      God bless!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Steven, keep struggling! I know that struggle. It’s actually a good (possibly great) place to be. Please don’t give up, and I’ll do what I can to encourage you.

        You see, those “contradictions” you see in Christianity mostly come from people not willing to live out Scripture honestly. But even within Scripture our Master calls us to hold in tension some pretty polar-opposite positions. But oxymorons and paradoxes are actually quite common. The difficulty in understanding shouldn’t lead us to reject them, but accept our limitations.

        Like

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