Are we Gods?

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By Larry Short

In my most recent Last Word I touched on a topic that may have been a bit controversial for some: Does God respect us? I argued that Yes, He does, based on the fact that in Scripture we see Him treating even his vilest enemies with great respect, e.g., look at the way Jesus treated Judas. And that respect manifests itself in the fact that God allows us complete freedom of choice, even when that choice may hurt someone else and deprive them of their rights.

This week I want to touch on a related topic that may make us even more uncomfortable. Does God consider us to be “gods?”

The question sounds shocking. But, scripturally speaking, the answer is “Yes.” This question is the focus of Psalm 82, where God speaks to us:

“I said, ‘You are “gods”;you are all sons of the Most High.’

7 But you will die like mere men;you will fall like every other ruler.”

Jesus quoted this psalm in John 10:

31Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, 32but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

33″We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

34Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods'[e]? 35If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken— 36what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. 38But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” 39Again they tried to seize him, but he escaped their grasp.

It’s clear that Christ’s purpose in quoting this was to demonstrate the special nature of his relationship as the Only Begotten Son of His Father in heaven. We are all God’s children (in the sense that He created us and endowed us with spirit and the capacity to choose good or evil); but there is only One Son of God “whom the Father set apart as His very own and sent into the world” — Jesus.

This in itself demonstrates one of the key points I believe Scripture is trying to drive home to us. Yes, we are all “gods” (and in what sense, we shall explore in a moment). But only One of us is “God.” And there is a vast gulf of distinction between those two words, “gods” and “God.”

First let’s ask, when God says “You are gods,” in what sense does He mean this? How does God define “gods”?

I think we get a clue from the words of the serpent, as he was tempting Eve and Adam in Genesis 3: 4 “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” I think the primary way in which we are truly like God, is that we are free moral agents, knowing the difference between good and evil. We have the capacity, the power, to choose good or evil, even when choosing evil means committing injustice against others of God’s creation. Each of us has the power, for instance, to commit murder. We know, theologically, that God alone is the author of life; and that He alone therefore (as God) has the right to choose when to give life and when to take it away. Rightly or wrongly, we too have the power to rob another person of life. Cain first demonstrated this godlike power by killing his brother Abel.

It’s for this reason I think when Scripture says, “You are gods,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it as a compliment! The fact is, we are free moral agents, with the choice to choose good or to choose evil. And the even more sobering fact is, all of us chose evil over good … which is why Christ had to die to redeem us.

God also is a free moral agent, but He chose good and knows no evil, has committed no sin. Part of His goodness is his incalculable love for us, which drove Him to the Cross to redeem us. That demonstrates the vastness of the gulf that separates “God” from “gods.”

This touches on an area of intense debate between many Christians: God’s sovereignty, versus man’s free will. Scripture clearly teaches that God is sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent. It says He “chose us to be in Christ before the foundations of the world.” Those “whom He foreknew,” Paul says, “He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” God is clearly sovereign. The Calvinists all give a hearty “Amen!”

Scripture also teaches, very clearly, that each of us is completely free to choose, and to bear the responsibility for our choices. God’s love and respect for us means He takes His hands off and allows us to make wrong choices, even if those wrong choices hurt other people and ultimately send us to Hell. The Arminianists all give a hearty “Amen!”

The problem comes when we say, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense, you can’t have it both ways. Either God is sovereign, or we have free will. Both can’t be true.” Wrong! We may not be able to conceive of how both can’t be true, but the fact is, they are. Ephesians is clear: God’s choice of us, His election, His predestination, is on the basis of His foreknowledge of our choice(s). It’s not a matter of Him forcing us to choose something and violating our will. He respects His creation too much to do that. In fact, we know that God’s will is that none would perish. But some do perish. His will is therefore violated. Does this mean He is not omnipotent? No, it does not. We may not be able to untangle it, but God’s omnipotence is not violated by the fact that His desires may not be achieved.

I know this is a bit of a mindbender (especially for those of us with fragile intellects!), but I do think there are some practical applications. First, realizing God’s utmost respect for our right and ability to choose good or evil should chill us and make us very, very wary. The ultimate Good Parent, He will let us have our own way even when that way ultimately means hurting ourselves or those around us. Never think God will swoop in and save the day at the last moment, protecting you or those around you from the consequences of your bad choices and decisions! That’s not how He works. When He tells His children, “Don’t play with matches,” if we ignore Him and start playing with matches, He is going to let us get burned.

Second, God treating us like gods gives us a clue as to how we are to treat the people around us. We must respect them far more than we do, even if we don’t like them, or they don’t like us, or we don’t think they are somehow worthy of respect. That person sitting next to you is responsible for their own choices, and your responsibility is to respect that power. Do you ever wonder why Christ taught that he who calls his brother “Raca!” (translated “Fool!”) is in danger of hellfire? Respect.

Finally, realizing the vast gulf that separates us (as gods) from God (as God) should have a very healthy impact on us as worshipers. The Mormons, and other cults who confuse this issue (saying things like, “As we are now, God once was; as God is now, we will become”), are so wrong on this point. We may be like God in one respect, having the power to choose good or evil, but in everything else we are so unlike Him … starting with what we have done with that power, compared to what He does with it! A healthy view of who we are, the utter depravity for which Christ died to redeem us; and a healthy view of how utterly holy God is, He who alone loves selflessly and sacrifices in ways we can’t even imagine; is absolutely necessary to a healthy view of the relationship we “gods” have with our Father, God.

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Does God respect us?

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By Larry Short

If you would have asked me that question a year ago, I think I would have had a much different reaction. “Respect us?” I would have asked, perhaps scratching my chin thoughtfully. “Wow, I don’t know. I guess He respects our right to make decisions for ourselves. But how could He REALLY respect us? After all, He is God, and we are not. We are utterly depraved, He is utterly holy. What’s to respect?”

I might have even secretly wondered if the question itself was a bit blasphemous!

But two things I have studied in the Word recently have caused me to drastically change my perspective on this question. And the implications of what I have learned have both frightened me and given me a new and profound respect for our Creator. I hope I can share these impacts with you here.

Job, God, and Satan

Several months ago, the Young Adults Ministry finished up a very interesting study in Job. I confessed to them that there was something about this story that had always bothered me … and that is the apparently unfettered access Satan has to the throne of God.

And more than that, the apparent respect with which God treats Satan in the story! In Job 1 He asks Satan two questions as if He really cares about the answer (and, by extension, cares about, respects, perhaps even loves Satan himself): “Where have you come from?” and “Have you considered My servant Job?” He listens patiently to Satan’s answers, then tells him: “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” He speaks with authority … and respect. To the devil!

This has always troubled me deeply. God abhors evil, right? And no single created being more fully represents evil than Satan himself. If I were God and saw Satan hanging with the angels in Heaven, I think I would throw a major thunderbolt and watch him plunge in smoking flames! I certainly wouldn’t ask respectful questions, listen patiently for the answer, and then give him (nearly) free reign to torment the man Scripture says was the most righteous person on the planet at the time! What on earth (and in heaven) is going on here, anyway?

Jesus and Judas

Recently I was reading the New Testament and was struck by this verse, right between the eyes. I realized quickly how similar the situation (or, at least my reaction to it) was to the God and Satan story in Job 1. This is from John 6, shortly after Jesus has given a difficult teaching about being the Bread of Life. Verse 66 says that “Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” as a result, and He asked the 12, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” But Jesus replies, in verse 70: “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” And John offers this footnote: He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.

And that’s when it hit me: Long before Judas actually betrayed Jesus, Jesus knew he was going to betray Him! How long? I asked myself. And I realized there really only was one answer: For as long as Jesus knew Judas, even before the day He selected this scumbag to be one of the 12, He knew.

If you and I were in Jesus’ shoes, extending the honor of apostleship to 12 individuals who agreed to follow us, and knew that one of them would ultimately stab us in the back … would we do it? Not me, no way! How could I work shoulder to shoulder with that person, day after day, in my most intimate and troubled moments, and look him in the eye, knowing that? I have a hard enough time just tolerating the coworkers in the cubicles around me when they talk too loud on the phone!

The enormity of the chasm between me and God

It was at this very moment that I realized anew the terribly vast gulf that separates me from God. God truly loves even His most vicious enemies. That love is demonstrated in respect. The One who told us, “Love your enemies” treated Judas no differently than He treated all the other disciples, even though He knew of the pain and destruction that would come from Judas’ choices. And God created Satan, knowing full well that he would become the devil. Scripture teaches that Lucifer was the highest of God’s creations. It seems to be in God’s nature to give His creatures, whom He endowed with free choice, a wide latitude to make decisions even if those decisions are bad and harmful.

Why is the need to show such respect for people’s freedom of choice so difficult for me? I think the real reason is that it is much easier for me to hate people than it is for me to hate evil. For God, the very opposite is true. And with that realization, you see how enormous the chasm between me and God truly is.

The implications of profound respect

So, does God respect me? Absolutely He does, more than I ever realized before or probably ever could realize. I am His precious creation, just as Judas was. His love for me is infinite, and this infinite love manifests itself in respect.

So, what is the practical implication of this respect? When you truly respect someone, you give them complete freedom to live in accordance with their own choices. They are an independent entity. They can choose to accept you, to love you in return, or they can choose to reject you. You certainly don’t “weight” things by coercing or forcing them to do one or the other.

I’ve heard it said that God is ultimately pro-choice, and I realize now what that means. He respects our freedom to choose to such a great extent that He will even allow us to make life miserable for others (as Satan did for Job). In fact, one of the most heinous evils I can think of is a person who would hurt, or even kill, an innocent child (born or unborn). It’s hard not to wonder, Why does God allow that? Why doesn’t He stop the person who commits such terrible atrocities? Why did God create Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin or Osama Bin Laden? I think the answer relates to respect. Each of those has the freedom to choose, and that freedom entails the power to choose to hurt others.

So, ultimately, what will come of this freedom? I think the final story will be very sobering, but also very good news, depending on how you look at it: Ultimately, there is justice! As we choose an evil path, Scripture says we are hardened in that path, and that hardening ultimately results in separation from God. The evildoer will not always have the power to hurt others with his evil. In God’s good timing, in this life or the next, there will be justice. A lake of fire is coming for Satan and his angels. People ask: “How could a loving God create Hell?” The answer is, Hell is the only logical possibility when you couple our freedom to choose evil, with the fact of God’s ultimate love and respect for us and our choices.

That hardening and condemnation is bad news for the person who chooses it. But the one who will choose life, who will choose God, who will choose the good, God will also confirm on that path of choice. We will be softened to God and the journey will lead us away from injustice, away from the pain wrought by evil, toward willful submission and obedience, and ultimately to Heaven. To borrow C.S. Lewis’ terminology, that is the “great divorce” that is coming, the separation of evil from righteousness, Heaven from Hell. History is the process of God using His winnowing fork to work out the balance between absolute love and absolute freedom of choice.

On which side of His winnowing fork will you fall? God’s respect for you means that you alone, in all of Creation, can choose the answer to that question.

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Christian politics

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by Luke Amos

I came across this quote from Christian author Bob Moeller.

“Those who consider themselves political and moral conservatives have a unique opportunity at this point in our nation’s history. One option is to play hardball politics and rejoice as their opponents stumble; the other is to display love and mercy in the midst of a highly polarized and angry culture. Is it possible to show gentleness and compassion to a person we might disagree with on so many issues? That’s both the challenge and the opportunity. The President thinks he understands the mind of a moral and spiritual conservative. He believes it’s filled with hostility, anger, and a desire for power. What are we doing to change his mind?”

The Bible is very clear as to what our attitudes towards those in power should be. Romans chapter 13 urges us to honor and submit to civil authority.

Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:17 “Show proper respect to everyone: love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, and honor the king.” This was written during the reign of Nero. This is the Nero who ordered his mother and step-brother executed and fed Christians to dogs and crucified them.

And 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Proverbs 24:17 states “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice.”

I’m not saying all of this to say that Christians should be quiet in the realm of politics and force ourselves to hide in the background praying. I believe we have a moral responsibility and appointment from God to make sure our country is run in a way that glorifies him, shows love and compassion, and is morally just. Disagreeing with our leaders is not only the right given to us by the first amendment but required by God if they are violating what is right. Christians have the responsibility to oppose legislation and government initiatives that are not in America’s best interest. We should also criticize those making wrong decisions as it is a sign of wisdom to listen to those around us.

However, I feel that the vast majority of politically outspoken Christians are not doing this how God wishes us to. I think the Bible is clear in that God wants our criticisms to be done with love, mercy, forgiveness, and respect. We should pray for our leaders as the Bible urges us to. But temper our judgments with the love and respect that Christ-followers should exhibit.

This is not to say that the “other side” does not name call and slander the “right.” But that does not make it morally correct. In fact it makes us as Christians even more at fault because we know better. I did not vote for Obama nor do I support just about any of his administration’s policies. However, campaigning against him and his policies should be done respectfully.

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