No, "we can’t"…

So, today we have a new president. Before I get into this, let me say that it is pretty unbelievable that we can have a total overhaul of our government without the nation breaking out into civil war and with the old government and the new government on the same stage… And it is a huge step in our nation’s history that race is no longer the kind of barrier it used to be. For these reasons, today was a good day for our country…

That said, there is a problem as we head into this next administration… this idea that “WE CAN…” This has been the rallying cry of the new administration and a point around which people stand, cheer, and find hope. It’s this idea that if we pull ourselves up by the boot straps and put our arms around each other, we can solve the ills of the world. It’s a nice thought, and makes for a great slogan, but in the grand scheme of things it is false.

Now, if you are still reading this, then you are either highly confused, ticked off, or just waiting to see what I mean… So, I’ll explain…

There are a lot of things that you and I as human beings can do. We can create things, we can destroy things, we can love, we can hate, we can make breakfast tomorrow morning, we can run marathons, climb mountains, open up people’s hearts, and administer medical knowledge in ways that prolong life or take life… in fact, this list of things we CAN do is quite long… but it’s limited. There are things we can’t do. We can’t yet leave the orbit of Earth and return back. We have yet to eliminate all disease. We can’t yet run marathons faster than 2 hours. We can’t read people’s minds. Nor divert hurricanes or tornadoes. And this list is far longer… And even the things we can do have limits. While we can make breakfast tomorrow there is no guarantee that you won’t burn it, or that you won’t spill your cereal, and so on…

What I am saying is that you and I can do a lot of things, but not everything, and even what we can do, we can’t do all the time… no matter how well we prepare or how much we believe we can do this or that. So, what?

This idea that “we can” do whatever we set our minds to fails at one particular point: God is in control of it all. Too often we say we have the power, and we have the ability to do whatever we like without realizing that we are not even promised our next breathe.

And ultimately the main problem in the world is sin… The reason the housing market has tanked, the reason there are wars, the reason families fall a part, why terrorism exists, why there is a ecological problem… all of it has to do with sin. And the bottom line is that you and I can’t do a darn thing about this fallen state. Nothing. We can’t. But through Jesus Christ we have a hope, and not the kind of hope we have in a politician that maybe things will get a little better over the course of the next four years… but a hope that is sure and firm that what God has promised He WILL accomplish.

Now, I’m not trying to be pessimistic, nor anti-progressive, but if we want to understand our place, and latch onto power that really matters we have to recognize that we are creatures… special and blessed creatures, but still creatures. Our only hope lies in our reliance on the Creator. A Creator that has also taken

As we head into a new phase in our country’s history we should hold a very humble attitude and be ready to say “No we can’t… BUT HE CAN!”

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  1. So we DIDN’T go to the moon?

  2. Hey Zack, long time no talk. Interesting read. I’m pretty sure I understand the spirit of your message; That we should rely on God’s will, God’s timing, God’s empowerment, and through Him accomplish things beyond our own power alone. That we are fundamentally flawed and incomplete, even unable, without Him.But it’s in bringing this down to the concrete, the here and now, that I have a hard time. What exactly is it we’re unable to accomplish? Where is the line drawn? Where are the limits and boundaries of our own abilities and intentions versus what someone who is empowered can accomplish?I’ve, of course, over the years heard talk like this but I’m still VERY sketchy on the DETAILS. Is this premise meant only on a spiritual level? (The only good worth doing is that which brings souls to God, and only Jesus brings salvation therefor we must trust in Jesus?) Or maybe it’s a definition thing? (That which would appear “good” if done without God is not really “good” at all?)Or maybe it’s simply a message about the nature of humans? That we either lack the strength to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” or will always be hampered by sin? Yet, there are a great many people who seemingly “pull themselves up” and motivate themselves into action (even seemingly good, beneficial action) without a belief in God, let alone a deep abiding relationship. Is this explained by God acting in their lives without them aware? Or maybe, like earlier, the “good” they do as doctors or whatever isn’t really “good” because it’s not saving souls or it’s not God’s will? But doesn’t healing the sick coincide with God’s will (in most cases?) anyway?See how this gets foggy? I can’t seem to make the pieces all fit…Maybe I’m digging too deep and I’m definitely not trying to stir up dissension, just seeking clarity.All the best,TomI often have a difficult

  3. “When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.” Ecclesiastes 8:16-17.

  4. To Josh, yes we did land on the moon, but you’ll notice that the moon is still in the Earth’s orbit… We haven’t gone past that point and returned…

  5. Did someone seriously just give me the anonymous reply of “the bible says God’s way beyond anything you’ll figure out, so don’t even try” verse?So we’re not supposed to talk these concepts out in order to discover what we as humans are supposed to do? Come on.It’s through discussion and searching together that we seek a clearer understanding of the truth. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples, “Oh stop with the questions already, you guys won’t understand.”Or maybe there’s another way to interpret that verse, anonymous?Then again, if discussion is unwelcome, I don’t have to post. I just thought I might get some help understanding this more clearly.

  6. To Tom,Yeah, your questions are ones I struggle with as well… How does God’s sovereignty coincide with His will and what we (universal we, including non-believers) do? I do believe that God is in control of absolutely everything, even the actions of those that don’t believe in Him… you see that with Pharaoh in Exodus, Cyrus in Nehemiah, even the Pharisees actions against Jesus lead to our salvation.Now, about the day-to-day of people like us… This gets difficult to understand because it forces us to think in more eternal terms. God uses the good deeds of unbelievers to believers and unbelievers alike… Because everyone is created in the image of God and as such has the capability to help others… For example, when a doctor goes to Africa and helps those suffering with AIDs then he/she is reflecting that image. So, from a temporal standpoint he/she has done something good.But ultimately if everyone just does good deeds without pointing back to Christ, then all is lost. It’s pretty harsh, but Isaiah 64:6 even points this out.Now one caveat… is the idea that all good work is work that goes into saving souls, and nothing else… I know exactly the kind of talk you mention.But what does Moses, the Psalmist, even Jesus say?… help the fatherless and the widow, minister to the least of these, etc., etc. When Jesus calls His disciples to be salt and light, I think He is talking about acts of service. Paul says, to let your good works shine before men so that people will praise our Father in Heaven. And there is more.Saying that God is sovereign and in control of all things, doesn’t let us off the hook, in fact, it makes us liable to obey Him. I certainly don’t have all the answers on this topic… but who can really? God is infinite, and we are finite. If we could wrap our brains around it then God wouldn’t be God.My baseline is to say that is in control, and that prompts me to act as obediently as I can in the power of His Holy Spirit. I pray that others, non-believers too, will do their part… whether they like it or not… to do God’s will “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”I don’t know if that helps or makes things even more foggy. I fear the latter.

  7. Oh I absolutely welcome the comments… I don’t think the verse was aimed at your comment, but just in general to say they don’t have any answers.We should all struggle through these questions… I know I am.I’m trying to use the current political situation as a springboard for this sort of discussion about God and His control.Thank you for your questions

  8. Tom, Al, and Zachary – y’all are all great in my book! I love the smart, sincere dialogue. And I’m learning a thing or two. 🙂 – Julie

  9. Zac, yes, thanks for the conversation on this.First, I can tell you’re definitely a Presbyterian with the strong emphasis on God’s sovereignty. I, clearly, am not (Presbyterian), and continue to struggle with MANY basic tenants of the Christian faith – and I think that says a lot about my willingness to be authentic and seek answers that resonate, even after a degree in Religion and a lifetime (so far) of experience.Please note that I am not, in any way, trying to push an agenda, and just because I question something doesn’t mean that I’m rooting for the opposite, as so often is interpreted in these kinds of dialogues.The sovereignty thing is a very difficult sticking point for me. I can’t reconcile an all sovereign God, who knowingly condemns the children He so loves to an eternal Hell – for finite crimes.The best analogy I can come up with is a robot maker who knowingly builds 100 robots. Half he builds correctly – they respond to his instructions, recognize his voice, and function in ways that please the robot maker. The other half he designs to malfunction on purpose. He then decides to keep the working ones with him forever, and burn the others in the trash can (and he planned on doing this all along.)I know this is a crude analogy, but stripped down to the bare details this is the picture of a sovereign, omniscient God who creates some of his children to be with him forever, and others to burn for sins he knowingly allowed ahead of time. I can’t, in my humanity, understand how this is justified as “good”. So, we insert free will, but that doesn’t fix the dilemma. We still have a creator who invents a system that allows for sin, allows for people to (knowingly or unknowingly) choose, in a finite, ignorant lifetime, to turn away from him, and then burns them for eternity. I can’t see how this is then “just”.And on top of all of this we are limited in what we, as humans, can do! We, under our own power, can’t “save” anyone. That’s the place of Jesus. We can talk to them, minister, show kindness, invite them to church, whatever, but ultimately it’s not our place to save them for only Christ has that power. So, getting back to Sovereignty, all of the power rests in God’s hands… all of the decisions rest in his hands… yet all of the judgment falls on us!We are the ones who are punished if we give into sin and turn away from God, yet we are not ultimately capable of anything on our own…Can you see how these pieces don’t fit?Yes, Tom, but the Bible says that we all stand before God guilty of sin. And yet this doesn’t make sense because I was sinful and I wasn’t given a choice about it, it is how I was created. Therefore how does that responsibility fall on me? Shouldn’t it fall on the one who made that decision?Maybe God actually needs our forgiveness?I know… that’s a tough one and a lot of people will see that statement and think blaspheme. I don’t mean to offend anyone, just to make sense of things because as far as I’m concerned I will not praise a God who is unjust and unmerciful.I know, that sounds arrogant, but please see it as authentic. I only seek to have a correct perception of God’s character in order to know Him better and to understand that He is in fact Merciful and Just.

  10. Al, as for the breathing example; Of course there are boundaries to our physical existence. I’m not sure how this example applies or answers my question – I can’t walk through walls or expect to exist beyond any physical or biological boundaries and I don’t expect to either.My initial question applies more specifically to the limitations of the human motivation, with or without God’s empowerment, because that was the original topic of Zac’s post – being about a message to our country and society from our new president.So here, I’ll state a concrete question: Can individual human beings work together, and achieve positive, beneficial goals, for the betterment of our country without being Christians in the formal sense?Is this possible? Please note, this is a question about individuals, not the group as a whole.

  11. Tom, well put… and I absolutely resonate with your honesty and struggle. I don’t take anything you’re saying as pushing an agenda… just honest. Yes, I am a Presbyterian, and a thoughtful one at that… meaning I chose it because of this very doctrine (sovereignty of God). Now, because I am a human being, and have a desire to be independent and self-sufficient, I struggle with it too.So, I’ll give you a little of my own theological journey before I deal with some of the questions you have…When I was first struck with this doctrine I had to ask myself, “Do I really believe it?” I mean, yes, it is in the Bible, but if I try I can probably explain it away by denying its historicity or the inerrancy of it in light of the human authors, etc. So do I believe what the Bible says about God? Then I had to ask myself about the alternatives. Either God is totally in control and sin/pain/problems exist or God is in partial control and sin/pain/problems exist or God is not in control and sin/pain/problems exist.If God is not in control at all, then He’s not God by any real definition of the word. (This basically the view of Deists where God starts things but then does nothing. The Bible is pretty clear this is not the case.) So that’s out. So, I’m left with partial control or total control.If it’s partial control then I have to ask, “Who has the rest?” Is it random? Do human beings have it? Does something else? The more I thought and the more I read the more I realized that if human beings have some control then I have to say that there are somethings God does not have control over and thus has no power over and thus does not know. He would be a limited God. But if this is God then He can’t be a standard of right and wrong, and so where do we get that? (This may seem like a fallacy tagging morality to sovereignty, but it’s not only for the sake of brevity I’m not going there yet.) Also, if we are in partial control and there limits to God’s power then where does our hope lie? If I am in some control then I have to say there is some standard that I have to add to God’s plan (the sacrifice of Jesus Christ) in order to achieve salvation or redemption… or I have to say God has no plan at all and then I’m really lost.So, that’s a very brief view of how I backed into accepting God’s sovereignty as the foundational doctrine… There is like 5 years of reading, studying, asking questions and rabbit-trails that I’m condensing into a few sentence.As far as your points, there are a few things I’d can add to hopefully progress you on your journey. I’d like to pony off of your analogy, but try to point toward a more biblical reality.God, is the robot maker, and in the analogy we are the robots, but instead of making some perfect and some flawed he made them all perfect. But we are not robots, and because we are not robots, but in fact human beings he gave us minds with the ability to make choices. If we did not have choices we would not be human beings, but robots.However, we did make a choice away from God (through the representation of Adam) and so we messed up the perfection.Now, a bit of an excursus… God did know all this would happen, and God proceeded. We may complain that if He knew He shouldn’t have created us, but then we wouldn’t have the ability to even voice our complaint or opinion on the matter. For whatever reason, God did create humanity and did thus with the ability to make a choice for wrong/sin.As human beings even from the time of Adam we have the desire to take God’s place, to try to do things on our own… that was Satan’s temptation to Adam and Eve.Now, at this point God had a choice (I’m using anthropomorphic terms, because God in His eternal counsel already planned this out and so the choice was made before it happened, and God is not limited by time but is in fact supratemporal.) He could wipe us out immediately,… all of us and He has the right to. So, he could demonstrate nothing but justice in this way. Or He may demonstrate total mercy and let everyone off the hook. Now that seems like a great thing, but what would that look like in reality. There would be no withholding of evil. God kind of shows us this in the Old Testament especially in Genesis 6:1-8 and the time of the Judges. Also, if people turn away from God, and by that I don’t mean merely by sinning, but by consciously ignoring Him or outright denying Him, then would those people desire heaven: an eternity with Him? (CS Lewis’ view of Heaven and Hell in The Great Divorce is a great fictitious view of this point.) But here I am even ignoring the fact that one of God’s attributes is His holiness, a total intolerance of sin, and so accepting sinful people is to accept sin. This, is by His nature contrary to His divinity.Instead of these options He demonstrate His mercy and love and grace and His justice and holiness by redeeming a chosen people. A people that will choose Him as well.But He in order to do this there has to be a payment, an exchange… our sin, for Christ’s holiness…Not everyone will realize that exchange, nor will they even desire it… but God is not obligated to save anyone. So, the question is not why isn’t everyone saved? But instead, why are any saved at all?There is more to be said about this, but I need to think a little more about the order of things…

  12. Tom,The question you pose is a good one for clarity and focus of the conversation…Can we work together as individuals and achieve positive beneficial goals, for the betterment of our country without being every person being a Christian?The short answer is yes. If we look at history and cultures as a whole we see this is the case. The Egyptians, Romans, Greeks all gave us tremendous things that the world has benefited from. Languages, political systems, mathematics, sciences, and on and on… And these are even things that ultimately help modern Christians better understand God and our relationship to Jesus Christ. I mean, if we want to read the New Testament in the original language we have to have a knowledge of something developed by pagans.But even there, God is empowering the unbeliever, regardless of their motivations to accomplish His ends. My point is that to fully inform the our works, good, bad or otherwise, we need to do it in light of God’s control.But what happens with unbelievers, in the long run though not necessarily in the short run, is they use progress and benefits to “become like God” (in a negative sense) and try to prove they don’t need Him.A couple of examples… First from Scripture… In Genesis 11, people got together to build something… a public works project if you will… and that turned into an attempt to reach heaven on their own terms, apart from God.Another from more recent history… as we have progressed scientifically, instead of marveling at the intricacies of the design we use science to try and explain away the existence of God. And any scientist who uses their research to try and demonstrate the necessity of a Creator is shunned. Suddenly our premium on free speech is nowhere to be found.So, the answer is yes. But without the glorification of God as the center of motivation ultimately progress is perverted. If not in the short run, definitely in the long run.

  13. To Josh,Yes, we did go to the moon, but the moon is in the orbit of the Earth, otherwise it wouldn’t be where it is. So, as he said, we haven’t yet left the orbit of the Earth (let alone returned).Tom

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