Friday, June 09, 2006

Should Christians Be Optimistic? Part I

As a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, it dawned on me recently how crabbed we sound when synthesizing our understanding of God's sovereignty, or decretive will, with historical pessimism.

Over the course of several brief posts, I would like to consider how our understanding of God's sovereignty, Christology, and Pneumatology should provide a framework for historical optimism.

First, let us consider some basic purposes of the Father. God has promised to bless the nations and all families of the earth. "Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (Gen. 12:1-3)

Second, the Father has promised to establish His Son's Kingdom over the whole earth (see Ps. 110). In Daniel 2, we read, "God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever."

Through Christ, the Kingdom of God comes to fruition. According to Isaiah there will be no end to the increase of His government, and from His throne justice and righteousness will be established and upheld.

We also know some other things about God’s attributes. In His dealings with man, God is gracious and merciful. "The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Ps. 145:8). Similarly, God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live" (Ezek. 18:32; see also Ezek. 18:23).

On the other hand, we also know that God decrees EVERYTHING that comes to pass for His glory and pleasure (see Eph. 1:3-14). According to the London Baptist Confession (1689), "God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass."

Does God’s decretive will, expressed above, come into conflict with his graciousness toward men? The primary eschatological approaches of the day, which tend toward historical pessimism, typically posit that the vast majority of mankind will be lost. But if God does not take pleasure in the deaths of men, why would he foreordain to punish the majority of them?

More to come...

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