The Bible is an interesting book. It is one story authored over thousands of years that tells us the history of redemption by God in Christ. It is the wisdom and guidance of God, a love story for sinful human beings; inspired, infallible and inerrant. The Bible is all of that.
And it is also, at times, very confusing. Admit it. There are a lot of passages I just don’t understand. There are things God does that boggle my senses and truths taught in the Bible that blow my mind.
And to cap it all off, there are verses that seem to line up on both sides of most issues. You know it’s true! Even though we uniformly believe in eternal security, there are some verses that are easier for the other side to argue. Even the most ardent anti-Calvinist has to admit that there are some verses that work better for the Calvinist side. And the honest Calvinist has to admit that there are some verses that make more sense on the other side of the aisle.
Good theology can never pick verses that support a doctrine and ignore, deny or explain away those that support the other side. It must recognize the entirety of scripture and account for it.
Throughout church history, the nature of Christ has been challenged from both sides. Early in church history there was a Gnostic dualism that believed that the physical world was evil and denied that Jesus was truly incarnated. How could Jesus really encase himself in this evil world of flesh. Later, the Arian heresy arose which affirmed Jesus’ humanity but denied his deity. The understanding of the nature of Christ has often ping-ponged between these extremes – denying either the deity or the full humanity of Christ. How could he be both God and man? But the Bible affirms both.
How many Gods do we have? There is only one God. But wait! We believe in the Father, who is fully God. We believe in the Son, who is fully God. We believe in the Spirit, who is fully God. That makes three doesn’t it?
There is no way within the boundaries of human logic that Jesus can be both fully God and fully man. It is beyond our understanding. And there is no way that God can be both one and three. Yet, we believe that the Bible affirms both the deity and humanity of Christ, and the existence of one God in three persons.
How can this be?
It is called an antinomy.
In philosophy, an antinomy is defined as a “contradiction between principles or conclusions that seem equally necessary and reasonable; a paradox.” In theology, we narrow the focus a little. An antinomy is a logical contradiction between principles that are both affirmed in Scripture. God is one. God is three. Jesus is man. Jesus is God. In the limits of human logic, these cannot both be true, but they are biblically evident.
Isaiah 55:8-9 provides an explanation for this. In context, Isaiah is talking about God’s mercy to sinful Israel. God is a holy God who must punish sin. He is also a merciful God who loves sinners. Isaiah records the words of God addressing this logical conflict between God’s holiness and mercy, his wrath and his love.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
In this specific instance, and in general, we learn that God has a level of logic that goes beyond our highest understanding. God has ways that are so far beyond our ways that we cannot comprehend them.
God, Me and My Dog Tubbs
I have a dog named Tubbs. Supposedly, labs are among the smartest of dogs, but Tubbs can only understand the most basic of commands. I can communicate with him, but I cannot fully explain myself to him. He just doesn’t understand. Why not? I have a level of understanding and intelligence that he cannot grasp. He knows the word “outside” and understands the command to “go lay down.” But beyond that he is just lost.
God reveals himself to us, but he cannot reveal all of himself because we are simply not able to understand it all. I would guess that the difference between God’s intelligence and mine is probably greater than the difference between my intelligence and Tubbs’. The greatest of human intellect is but a grain of sand on the seashore of God’s brilliance. He has an intelligence we simply cannot access.
So, the Bible sometimes affirms truths that seem in logical conflict to us. Both truths cannot be true according to human logic. And yet, in the higher intelligence of God, these truths can be brought together. I cannot understand how God can be three and one, but it can still be true even if it is beyond my understanding. Jesus can be both fully divine and fully human even if it is beyond my understanding to comprehend. God is beyond the limits of my intelligence.
Calvinism and the Antinomy Principle
With apologies to those who those who are tired of the theological issues that swirl around the Calvinism debate, I would like to reflect for a moment on how the antinomy principle applies to the Calvinism debate. I believe that much of the fighting, fussing and feuding going on in the SBC over Calvinism is rooted in the fact that we are asked to choose between truths that are logically exclusive but are affirmed in Scripture.
- First, the Bible affirms that God chose before the foundation of the world those who would be saved, based not on any merit in them, but solely on his own sovereign grace. Calvinism exists because there are so many verses that support this concept. We were chosen by his grace.
- Second, the Bible also affirms that a human being must make a genuine response of faith, a decision to repent of sins and trust Jesus Christ as Lord. Non-Calvinism exists because some (certainly not all) Calvinists forget or at least de-emphasize the human decision in salvation.
Wait a minute, if God chose me, how can I need to choose repentance and faith? Can both of these be true? Aren’t these truths mutually exclusive? Obviously, many seem to believe that they are. They demand that I choose either the Calvinist emphasis on sovereignty or the non-Calvinist emphasis on decision. They deny that both can be true. If God is in control of my choice, how can I also be making a genuine decision? They want me to choose.
Both are taught in the Bible. God is sovereign and salvation is his work from start to finish. Before this world began, God set his affections on me, selecting me by his grace and settling my destiny. But I must make a genuine decision to repent of my sins and place my faith in Jesus Christ to receive that grace. Two things that are logically exclusive are both affirmed in God’s Word. It’s an antinomy.
So, is God three or one? Yes! He is one God eternally existent in three distinct persons each of which is fully God. I don’t understand that and I cannot explain it. But I can believe truth even which I do not understand.
In his sojourn here, was Jesus fully a man or was he fully God? Yes! Don’t ask me to choose one or the other. To choose one truth over the other drives me to heresy. Jesus was both. God is smarter than me. I can believe in his son even if I am not able to understand his dual nature.
Does God choose me or do I choose Christ? Yes! Do not ask me to choose one truth or the other. If I choose either God’s threeness or his oneness, I deny the Godhead. If I choose Christ’s humanity or his divinity, I deny the glory of his true nature. And if I choose either God’s sovereignty or man’s decision in salvation, I deny the full wonder of God’s salvation. Can I understand how both these truths can be? Of course not. But that doesn’t make them any less true.
So, I choose not to join in the Calvinism/anti-Calvinism fights. Don’t ask me to choose between truths that are both affirmed in the Word.
I serve a God who is so much more intelligent than I (and you) and works in ways I cannot understand. I just believe what his Word says.
So, those of you who want to continue to fight the petty blogging battles of Calvinism and anti-Calvinism can do so without me.
NOTE: Be gentle. I will be on the road Tuesday, headed from Virginia to Sioux City. Leaving my grandson is always cause for depression, so I’ll probably be grumpy. Besides, it’s always best to agree with me anyway!