Archive for April, 2015

John Lennox is my hero!

April 30, 2015

john_lennox

I promise this will be my last Unbelievable?-related post for a while. In this episode, Oxford mathematics professor and apologist John Lennox debates atheist Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor at Arizona State University.

William Lane Craig debated Krauss in a series of three debates in Australia a couple of years ago. During at least one of those debates, Krauss resorted to juvenile tactics such as using a buzzer to interrupt Craig’s presentation. Frankly, I worried how the ever-congenial Lennox would fare, stylistically, in the face of Krauss’s aggressive antics.

Among other things, Krauss isn’t good at letting his debate opponents finish their sentences.

The verdict? John Lennox is my hero (and not just because he looks like my dad)! Sanguine, firm, and unfazed, Lennox adroitly handles every challenge and objection, while sounding as if he wants to give Krauss a bear hug! How does he do it?

I want to have that kind of poise when I argue! He inspires me.

(Tom Harkins, I think you’ll like this one!)

A YouTube video of the audio is embedded below.

Why does God allow evil? It’s not a mystery

April 28, 2015
Clay Jones debates the problem of evil and suffering.

Clay Jones debates the problem of evil and suffering.

Fresh on the heels of yesterday’s widely read and discussed post about The Issue, which came by way of a debate on the Unbelievable? podcast, is this timely debate on evil and suffering, between Clay Jones, a professor of apologetics at Biola University, and atheist philosopher Richard Norman.

The discussion begins with Norman’s conceding that the logical problem of evil doesn’t hold. The logical problem, popularly formulated by David Hume, is this: “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”

No, Norman agrees that if God has good reasons for permitting evil—in spite of God’s goodness and power—then there is no logical problem. But, he says, the only justification that a Christian can give for those reasons is to appeal to mystery: we trust that reasons exist, but we don’t or can’t know what they are.

This appeal to mystery is very popular in mainline Protestant seminary: “Don’t even go there,” we’re told. “Don’t even try to explain evil and suffering. It’s all a mystery.”

Oh, please! I am weary of these platitudes. Aren’t you? We don’t want to be glib about it. But we can articulate some reasons, in general, for evil and suffering, even if we can’t say with certainty why God allows a particular instance of evil and suffering. While there are many things we can’t know about evil and suffering, this isn’t to say it’s a mystery as to why God allows them in the first place.

Be that as it may, in his defense of God’s goodness and power, Clay Jones doesn’t appeal to mystery:

We know why God allows evil. The Bible tells us, and I’m going to be presenting the biblical case for why God allows evil. But some listeners… may go, “Well, I don’t agree with the things taught in the Bible.” I understand that, but that’s an entirely different debate. If you want to know why the Christian thinks God is right to allow the evils he allows, then the Christian is going to have to appeal to the Bible. And the fact the skeptic doesn’t agree with that explanation isn’t relevant. They say, “Yeah, but I don’t agree with the Bible.” But that’s not the point. The Christian isn’t trying to defend a God the skeptic will agree with.

To convince the skeptic that the Bible is right about the God revealed therein is a different task, he says.

Here are Jones’s seven reasons that God allows evil:

  1. “God chose to create beings with free will. And it is impossible even for God to create free beings without allowing those free beings to use their free will wrongly.”
  2. God created humans with free will, warned them that death would follow as a consequence of using their free will wrongly. When they did so, God cursed the ground, enabling all kinds of pestilence, and then removed their access to the rejuvenating power of the Tree of Life, “and we’ve been attending funerals ever since.”
  3. “Natural” evil—tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, cancers, etc.—is largely a result of living in a cursed world.
  4. Although God could intervene regularly to stop suffering, he wants humans to learn the consequences of rebellion and their own actions, which is life without his constant protection.
  5. Natural laws must work in regular ways if our actions are to mean anything at all.
  6. “The knowledge we are learning about the consequences of rebellion against God is preparing us to be fit citizens of God’s kingdom—where we’re going to have free will, but choose not to sin because we’ve learned that sin here is stupid.”
  7. “Those who learned that rebellion is stupid and trust Jesus will be given eternal life, and that eternal life—very important point—will dwarf our sufferings to insignificance.”

He goes on to caution that he would normally spend 24 hours unpacking each of these points.

I largely agree with each of these. I would emphasize in points 2 and 3, however, that the creation of free beings capable of rebelling against God extends to the spiritual realm, where free angelic beings also chose to sin. They have a causal relationship to natural evil in our world—even if we can’t say with certainty what that relationship is.

I also wonder to what extent so-called “natural evil” existed from the beginning—with the understanding that we humans ascribe “evil” to an otherwise neutral, natural event—and humanity’s expulsion from the Garden meant that they were now exposed to what was already in Creation.

In other words, could it be that life outside the Garden was always harsh, and the Fall meant that Adam and Eve were no longer protected from this harsh reality? If humankind had remained in a perfect relationship with God, God would have ensured that they not be caught within the path of a tornado, for example—not that the tornado didn’t exist. Do you see the difference? This is all speculative, of course, and it doesn’t matter for Jones’s argument.

Most of the debate centered on points 1, 4, and 5, which form the heart of the “free will defense.” Norman conceded that, to some extent, God couldn’t create beings with free will who couldn’t be free to misuse that freedom. Nevertheless, why couldn’t a benevolent and all-powerful God create a world in which my misuse of free will wouldn’t cause the suffering of others? Why not simply allow my sin to affect me and not others?

For one thing, Jones said, if we possess love for others, then other people’s suffering—even if they bring it on themselves—would cause suffering for the people who love them.

For another, if God intervened every time one person’s actions would harm someone else, God would be intervening in our world literally millions of times a day. What then becomes of a world governed by predictable natural laws? Point 5 would go out the window.

Yes, Norman said, but Jones was still thinking about life in this world. Couldn’t an omnipotent God have created another kind of world in which we don’t suffer consequences from other people’s evil actions?

When Jones challenged him to explain what that world would look like, or how it could be different from ours, Norman said that wasn’t his problem: he isn’t an omnipotent God. But there’s no logical reason why God couldn’t make such a world happen.

Perhaps, Jones said, but it couldn’t be world in which we are as free as we are in this one. And God wanted us to be as free as we are in this world. Even Norman conceded the point.

Jones’s defense is nothing short of brilliant. Listen for yourself, and I think you’ll agree.

The “affirming” word to Christians like me: “You have a message of death and I pray for your soul”

April 27, 2015

This week’s episode of Unbelievable, a podcast I praised a while back, hosted a debate on The Issue last week between Dr. Robert Gagnon, the foremost mainstream (and mainline Protestant) Bible scholar defending the church’s traditional doctrine on homosexual practice, and Jayne Ozanne, an evangelical Anglican revisionist on the subject, who came out as gay earlier this year.

I have often cited on this blog Gagnon’s seminal book from Abingdon Press, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, which defends the historic Christian position.

I linked to this debate on Facebook, inviting gay-affirming clergy colleagues and those in the infamous “Methodist Middle” (who, let’s face it, are often one and the same) to listen. I said: “Pay attention to the care with which each one uses scripture to make his or her case. Which side is more faithful to our Wesleyan understanding of the role of scripture in guiding our faith and practice?”

A friend commented that the affirming side was poorly served by Ozanne, who seemed unprepared to match wits with Gagnon on what the Bible actually says about homosexual practice. Why not have a gay-affirming Bible scholar go at it with Gagnon? Wouldn’t that be a fairer fight?

Two responses: First, Dr. Gagnon himself, who is a Facebook friend, pointed out that while he’s “happy to debate any biblical scholar, theologian, ethicist, etc. at any time at any place,” he can’t get anyone to do it any longer. “For the first 5-7 years after my first book came out, I could get debates. Then I went through them all and word spread. This includes Brownson, Gushee, and Vines, none of whom will meet me for a rigorous discussion of what Scripture says and how it is to be appropriated faithfully in our contemporary context.”

Second, the debate was useful because it lays bare the shallowness of the arguments upon which so many of our colleagues are willing to overturn the church’s unanimous, two-millennia verdict that homosexual practice is a sin. Ozanne, who mostly argues from personal experience, repeated many of the things I’ve heard from our colleagues. What Ozanne believes, they also believe.

If, like Ozanne, my “affirming” colleagues are unwilling to engage scripture on the subject in the same serious way in which Gagnon does, then what they are saying, in so many words, is this: “I don’t care what the Bible says: here’s what it means.”

In doing so, they have moved far beyond any Wesleyan, much less Protestant, understanding of the authority of scripture.

Around the 49:00-minute mark, Ozanne, unable to meet his arguments head-on, resorts to attacking Gagnon’s character and Christian faith.

Sadly, this feels familiar to me: In my limited experience defending the same doctrine that, at one time or another, all of my fellow clergy said they agreed with, even some of them have resorted to ad hominem attacks against me. That’s fine—sticks and stones and all that. But let’s call a spade a spade.

That’s what Gagnon does in the following exchange, and good for him. Please notice that Ozanne insinuates that something is spiritually wrong with Gagnon for having these convictions—convictions that I share. So his problem is also my problem—and Pope Francis’s problem, for that matter.

What is wrong with all of our souls?

In the following transcript, which begins at 49:04, after Gagnon has just finished citing gay-affirming Bible scholars who agree with him that the Bible’s witness against homosexual practice is unambiguous, Ozanne begins her personal attack.

OZANNE: Robert, I admire your certainty on everything, and I have to be honest, I frankly don’t care how many hundreds of pages people have written. I’m very much reminded of the ‘wisdom of the wise I will frustrate.’ For me it’s about the nature of God and his love for us.

I’m afraid your certainty that this is so wrong leaves no room whatsoever for giving life to people who, um, I thinking of a teenager who’s just committed suicide. I mean, you have a message of death, and you’re so certain about it, I pray for you and your soul. Because I think—I hope—that your listeners, Justin, will listen with their hearts about what they feel is truly happening here… And the ultimate thing is, what is going on in our spirits beforehand to try and help us interpret [what scripture says about homosexual practice].

And I would suggest the ultimate place to start is looking at what Christ has done for us, which is to ensure that in his death on the cross, there is nothing else that is needed to bring everyone into the kingdom

GAGNON: I think you’ve distorted and given a truncated version of the gospel, and I think that’s part of the problem with your whole picture. But I also want to address the fact that earlier you had somewhat of an ad hominem attack on me with regard to my certainty, which I think is inappropriate.

O.K., first of all, it may be that a particular case in scripture does have overwhelming evidence. So it’s then a kind of manipulative argument to say that your ‘certainty’ is a problem. Maybe it’s your lack of an ability to respond to the arguments in question, and then you lash out with an ad hominem attack at somebody—that it’s their ‘certainty’ that’s the problem. Maybe your problem is your inability to actually defend the position.

And then you have an overarching presentation of the gospel that seems to completely leave out the fact that Christ doesn’t just call us to get what we want. He calls us to take up our cross, to lose our lives, and to deny ourselves. That doesn’t, to me, sound like getting what I want, when I want, with whom I want.

[Crosstalk]

Let me finish my train of thought because you’ve interrupted me again… My train of thought is that you have a notion about what fullness of life is. And that fullness of life is not reflected in the gospel. Paul, on a regular basis, had a life that was much more troubling than yours, mine, or anyone else around here. Every day he would get up in the morning, he could be beaten by rods by secular authorities. He could be whipped forty lashes minus one in the synagogues. He could be stoned, and we’re not talking about drugs here. He was poorly sheltered, poorly clad, poorly fed. In constant anxiety for his churches.

By your token or definition of what a meaningful existence is, he should have been absolutely miserable, and blamed God every day of his life for the kinds of experiences he had—even beaten up en route to share the gospel without actually sharing it—what’s the point of that? Shipwrecked, et cetera.

His point is that he’s rejoicing, because as he’s carrying around in his body the dying of Jesus, the life of Jesus is being manifested in him. As he’s brought to the point of whether he’s even going to live the next day, as he talks about in 2 Corinthians 1, he is brought to the point of relying on the God who has raised Jesus from the dead.

Water balloons and spiritual warfare

April 23, 2015

Last night, I finished up the six-part confirmation class that I’ve been teaching our youth on Wednesday nights. I tailored the class not only for those youth who are being confirmed in a couple of weeks but for the whole group.

After all, we could all use a refresher on the basics of faith, right?

Each week I tried to create a fun and physical outdoor game that tied into the lesson. Last night’s activity, for example, was a combination water balloon war fight and relay race, which I related to the “whole armor of God” passage in Ephesians 6:10-20. The object of the game was to have players carry an egg in a spoon across a field while being bombarded with water balloons, which were launched by opposing teams.

My point was that living a Christian life is hard, not simply because, when it comes to obeying God, we often face opposition within ourselves, but also because we face opposition from Satan and evil spiritual forces. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” as Paul says.

You can see a little bit of the game in the following video. It didn’t last very long before it became a water balloon free-for-all, but as you can see, the youth didn’t mind!

Sermon 04-19-15: “Warts and All, Part 2: Foolishness of the Cross”

April 22, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

While we often romanticize the early church, the proof from 1 Corinthians is that the church was as messed up in the first century as it is today. And like the Corinthian church, we also struggle with what Paul calls the “foolishness” of the cross. This sermon explores how and why that’s true.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 1:10-31

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3 file.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

I am “grumpy old man” in a middle-aged man’s body. My family is like, “Yes you are!

But I know I am. Because unlike most people I talked to about it, I didn’t want 21-year-old golfing sensation Jordan Spieth to win the Masters last Sunday. I wanted, well… one of the old guys, second-place finisher Phil Mickelson to win. Mickelson was born the same year I was! Heck, even when Tiger Woods was in his prime, before scandal and injury put an end to his dominance as the world’s best golfer, I would root for anyone but Tiger. Why? Because I didn’t want some young whippersnapper to surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record for majors victories. What can I say? I’m a grumpy old man. Someone said that Jordan Spieth might be the man to do it, and I’m like, “No-o-o-o!

Jordan Spieth winning the coveted green jacket.

Jordan Spieth winning the coveted green jacket.

So last Sunday I was rooting for the old guy. Mickelson is my guy. Many people were rooting for the new guy. Spieth is their guy.

In the church in Corinth, there was something kind of similar going on between different pastors in the church. You see, Paul had started the church at Corinth. He preached and taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ to begin with. He had lived and ministered alongside them for a year and a half. After he left, though, another leader came to the church, Apollos. And the Book of Acts tells us that Apollos was very gifted, forceful, charismatic preacher and teacher. And what happened in Corinth was the same thing that happens, well… in a lot Methodist churches and other churches when there’s a pastoral change: One faction couldn’t stand the guy who just left and fall in love with the new guy. Another faction loved the guy who just left, and aren’t very receptive to the new guy’s leadership. Fortunately, in most churches, the vast majority of people keep an open mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 04-12-15: “Warts and All, Part 1: God Is Faithful”

April 21, 2015

1 Corinthians sermon series graphic

The apostle Paul was confident in his call from God to be an apostle. We pastors, like Paul, are often confident of our call into ministry. The truth is, all of us—whether we’re clergy or laypeople—are also called by God and “set apart” for a mission. This sermon will explore the meaning of that call.

Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

[To listen on the go, download an MP3 by right-clicking here.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

This past week my family and I went to the beach at Gulf Shores for Spring Break. One day my kids and I went on an adventure: first, Ian, Townshend, and Elisa and I went banana-boating, and then the two older kids and I went parasailing: they strapped the three of us in harnesses and attached us to a parachute canopy—the boat took off and away we flew. Four-hundred feet above the sea. We would have gone higher, but it would have cost more. But still, it was fun.

And while we were up there, flying above the Gulf Coast, I couldn’t help but wonder how secure we really were—how safe we really were. Like, what do any of us know about those two young men in the boat down below—men in whom we have literally entrusted our lives? How confident are we that they know what they’re doing? How responsible are they? There was a big cooler down on the boat. For all I know, it was filled with empty cans from the case of Bud Light that they had just polished off a few moments before we got on board! I don’t know! I did literally no research on them. I didn’t check any references. I signed some kind of insurance waiver that I didn’t actually read. It’s crazy when you think about it: our lives were in their hands. Our health, our safety—whether we lived or died—depended in part on how well these two men did their jobs—men whose names I didn’t know, whose reputations I knew nothing about. Read the rest of this entry »

Wright: the church was messed up from the beginning

April 18, 2015

tom-wright

As N.T. Wright reflects on the divisiveness within the early church in his For Everyone commentary on 1 Corinthians, I find these words oddly comforting:

It’s a sobering thought that the church faced such division in its very earliest years. People sometimes talk as if first-generation Christianity enjoyed a pure, untroubled honeymoon period, after which things became more difficult; but there’s no evidence for this in the New Testament. Right from the start, Paul found himself not only announcing the gospel of Jesus but struggling to hold together in a  single family those who had obeyed its summons.

N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 8.

Does a virtue-based ethic mean the church is wrong about sex?

April 17, 2015

Evangelical theologian Preston Sprinkle, who, like me, supports the church’s traditional stance against homosexual practice, is hosting a debate on his blog between himself and a gay-affirming Christian ethicist named Jeff Cook. There have been a few exchanges so far.

Cook’s argument, which you can read about here and here, is that the New Testament promotes a virtue-based ethic rather than a rule-based ethic for Christian living. We are not righteous, he says, because we follow rules—even God’s rules—apart from a corresponding change of heart. (I don’t disagree so far.) To make his case, Cook cites Jesus’ frequent denunciations of the Pharisees, for example. They followed all the rules, yet they were “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

But here’s where it gets tricky: Following rules is good inasmuch as those rules promote virtuous living. If there’s no virtue at stake in following a rule (as he understands what counts as virtue) then Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament would say that we don’t need to follow it.

From Cook’s perspective, a committed, monogamous same-sex relationship is virtuous, therefore when Paul condemns homosexual practice, he must be talking about something other than that kind of relationship. And so, like many gay-affirming Christians, he interprets Paul’s words against homosexual practice to be about exploitative, non-consensual, and/or pederastic relationships.

There’s much to disagree with here. The most important question, as usual in these debates, pertains to one’s view of the authority of scripture. It strikes me as arrogant to say, as Cook seems to, that God’s Word—properly exegeted and interpreted—has to make perfect sense to our finite and fallible minds before we’re willing to obey it. In other words, if we believe that scripture tells us that homosexual practice, per se, is sinful, then why isn’t that enough for us?

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying, “God said it, I believe it, end of discussion.” On the contrary, I’m saying that we need to have the discussion first—to make sure that we have properly understood what God is telling us through his Word. But once we’ve done that—bringing our best thinking to bear and availing ourselves of the wisdom of the saints who’ve gone before us—then, as a matter of integrity, we ought be prepared to obey it, trusting that God is telling us the truth in the Bible that he gave us.

An open mind isn’t meant to remain open forever! As Chesterton said, “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”

Be that as it may, in the comments section of Cook’s second post, I wrote the following, taking his argument at face value. Feel free to tell me where my logic fails:

Notice in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul confronts the issue of incest head-on. In doing so, he’s looking back to the sex “rules” of Leviticus 18 and 20. For all we know, this man and his stepmother were committed to a lifelong monogamous relationship (the man’s father was obviously dead). What harm would this man and his stepmother be causing anyone? He’s not related to this woman by blood. His father is out of the picture.

As Cook says, “because virtue and divine commands go hand in hand, there must be a virtue-focused reason,” in this case, for Paul’s objecting to this seemingly “borderline” incestuous relationship.

What possible virtue would this relationship be violating? In other words, what is the basis of Paul’s objection, other than that he believes that incestuous relationships, per se, are sinful—that they are, indeed, as contrary to God’s intentions for sexual behavior as homosexual practice?

I can’t imagine a virtue-based objection in this case. Can Cook?

Yet by Cook’s logic, unless there were such an objection, Paul ought to say that the “rule” against incest no longer applies in this case—so long as the couple were behaving virtuously. Instead, Paul tells the church to remove the man from their fellowship in hopes that he’ll come to his senses and be saved! Paul’s language couldn’t be stronger.

Cook is also confident, along with so many other gay-affirming Christians, that Paul is really talking about exploitative, non-consensual, pederastic, or idolatrous same-sex relationships, not committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. Granted, this would be a hard case to make, given that these kinds of relationships did exist and were well-known in the cosmopolitan circles in which Paul traveled.

Nevertheless, Cook’s words fail to appreciate that Paul also condemns lesbian sex in the same breath as male homosexual sex. Based on what I’ve read, lesbian sex in antiquity was not known to be exploitative, non-consensual, or pederastic.

Again, why does Paul fail to see any virtue in these relationships?

Easter Sermon 2015: “He Has Risen—He Is Not Here”

April 16, 2015

easter_sunday_2015

My Easter sermon for 2015 is one part apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and one part proclamation of what that resurrection means: forgiveness and reconciliation with God, eternal life, and God’s putting the world to rights (as N.T. Wright often says). This is the first time I’ve preached Mark’s version of the resurrection in nine or ten years—although I would hate to re-read my sermon from back then!

Sermon Text: Mark 16:1-8

[To listen on the go, download an MP3 of this sermon by right-clicking here.]

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

When I was a child, to my great shame and embarrassment, I was a crier. For whatever reason, when I was a kid, I cried easily and often. This fact embarrassed me greatly. I know I know There’s nothing wrong with crying, but I was mortified at the thought of crying in front of my classmates in elementary school. The prospect filled me with dread. Yet somehow it still happened, year after year. Year after year, from first grade through sixth grade, something would happen—I’d get in a fight, I’d get in trouble, teachers would yell at me—and tears would flow. I would cry at school, and I felt like the whole world saw me.

Here’s the worst incident: It was literally the last day of sixth grade. I had gone the entire year without crying even once. A new record. And back in those days no one did any work on the last day of school. We spent most of the day in class parties or on the playground. What could go wrong? It was such a happy day. What could happen that would cause me to cry? Well, we were on the playground. By one of the jungle gyms. And I said or did something to cross Doug Smith—the class bully, my nemesis, my enemy—and he punched me in the gut. Cold-cocked me. Knocked the wind out of me. And I promise you, it was as if my skin turned green; it was as if muscles grew and ripped through my shirt and pants. It was as if I transformed into the Incredible Hulk. Read the rest of this entry »

More on God’s sovereignty

April 14, 2015

The following words of mine come from a response I gave to my friend Grant in the previous post. I think it covers some important ground, so I’m posting it as a separate blog post:

In some clergy circles in which I run, God’s sovereignty is almost a bad word, which blows my mind because Wesley himself certainly had a high view of it.

What turned me around on the subject more than anything was reading C.S. Lewis and, oddly enough, a Jewish Holocaust survivor named Viktor Frankl.

But honestly: if we believe that God has the power to grant our prayer petitions, and will do so at least sometimes (and even most Methodist ministers still believe that!), then it follows, logically, that, indeed, everything happens or doesn’t happen for a reason—unless we believe that God will answer prayer only arbitrarily.

If we pray for something, for example, and we don’t get it, then we can only assume that God has a good reason for not giving it to us. It’s easy enough to imagine that he does have a good reason, given that only God can foresee all the possible outcomes and effects throughout all of history of granting or not granting our petitions.

Do you see what I mean?

I had an argument once with a Methodist minister who said that while he believes that God has the power to intervene, and sometimes he does, often God just lets things run according to the laws of physics.

So, for example, if a boulder rolls down a mountain and happens to flatten a man in its path down below, God merely “lets physics run its course” and kill this person. God has nothing to do with it.

And I said, “Yes, but what if that man’s mother was praying that very morning for his safe travel to his destination. God didn’t grant her petition. Why? Did he not hear it? Did he not care? Did he not have the power to stop the man from being in its path at that exact moment? Could God not have redirected the boulder—not even miraculously, but by arranging before the creation of the world to have a small twig fall in the boulder’s path to steer it off its course?

God could have done that and it wouldn’t even involve a “miracle.” (In fact, I believe God intervenes in this way all the time.)

Or did God hear the mother’s prayer, consider it alongside every other circumstance happening at that moment and all future moments—alongside every other person living at that moment and all future moments—and foresee that intervening in that case (to prevent nature from running its course) would cause some greater catastrophe later on? And if God considered all that, then there’s no way around it: even the boulder flattening the man happened for a reason.

Moreover, any loving God in his providence can’t merely “let physics run its course” because the death of that one man sends ripple effects across all of history. His death affects so many other people’s lives—people living and not living. It has a profound impact on future generations. At what point would my friend start believing that God’s providential care “kicks in” and God starts “intervening”?

I hate to even use the word “intervene” because it makes it sound like God’s involvement in our lives is an exceptional event, rather than a continuous occurrence—as if there were moments in our lives when God isn’t intervening, and that can’t be true: Every breath we take and heartbeat we enjoy is a completely gratuitous gift of God. Every moment of life is given to us directly by God. He sustains us at every moment. So he’s continuously intervening.

The only theological question at stake for us Wesleyans is that God enables through his Holy Spirit our free acceptance of rejection of his saving grace.

That’s it! When planning the future, can God not foresee that free choice and arrange history accordingly—without abridging whatever freedom we need to love God and others?

This view of God’s sovereignty doesn’t seem very difficult to understand. But what am I missing? Where am I wrong?