Sovereignty, Satan, Saruman, Sauron, and Spying Scary Stuff

There is in Christian circles today a pandemic of fear. Two main fears have presented themselves. One, of a virus; the other, of government. These two fears are threatening to drown out the fear of God. They are also threatening to undermine Christians’ belief in the sovereignty of God. People are behaving as if a virus or the government is becoming or already is more powerful than God.

There is a variety of reactions visible at the moment. Some take the cocoon approach. Others display a sort of obsession to know the worst, and they tend to wallow in the bad news, thinking that if they can just know the worst, then they will retain some degree of control over the situation. This latter reaction is the one I am primarily addressing.

The primary analogy I wish to use is that of Saruman and Denethor’s twin desires to know everything through the seeing stones (the palantiri). The problem with both of them using the palantiri is that Sauron controlled the flow of information. They both saw only what Sauron wanted them to see. As a result, Saruman capitulated to what he saw and feared. Denethor went mad with hopelessness, even though he did not capitulate to Sauron’s tyranny. They were both tempted by the same thing: the thought that knowledge equals power equals control. The problem for them both was that Sauron was stronger, and the flow of information was controlled. They couldn’t see anything that Gandalf would have wanted them to see, nor could they see anything that would give them hope.

In our modern age, the information is also being controlled in a majority of cases. It is not news (usually!) to report positive things in this world. What makes the news is almost universally negative. The flow of information is carefully controlled in order to present a world that is spiraling out of control, especially out of God’s control. Fear is very intentionally the goal of much of this information flow. The actual Sauron (Satan) is a master of misinformation. He is directing his forces to paint a very negative picture so that people who could actually do anything about the situation are paralyzed.

This picture is quite misleading. In Revelation 12, if you didn’t know how the story turns out, you would think that the brainy and brawny dragon very obviously was going to win. At the very least, you would probably have put your money on the dragon. Except, he doesn’t win. In fact, he is shown to be laughably, absurdly impotent. He can’t even destroy a woman in labor with her infant child? The lesson of Revelation 12 is that appearances are deceptive. It might look like evil is gaining the upper hand, but in the spiritual realm, this is never the case. And the physical realm does not control what goes on in the spiritual world. If anything, it is the reverse.

We need to learn the lesson of not fearing anything or anyone but God Almighty. His sovereignty cannot be seriously challenged. His plan, however incomprehensible to us at the moment, will eventually be evident as the best possible plan. Worried obsession with information will get us nowhere. It will not result in the control we think we are gaining. Instead, it will only result in capitulation (a la Saruman) or the madness of despair (like Denethor). Instead, we need to be meditating on the actual battle in the spiritual realm, reflecting on the sure and certain knowledge that God cannot possibly lose. Indeed, He has already won.

2K, 2nd Table ONLY, Biblical Based Inference

(Reed DePace)

The third “New Machen’s Warrior Children” thread is about to pass 500 comments so far. Simple observation (no criticism in view): this thread has focused itself more on theonomically informed opposition to 2K than it has understanding of the 2K position. All who want to continue to pursue those lines are encouraged to do so on that thread. (If/when it gets up to the 700-800 comment range, if folks want to keep that focus going, we’ll start a fourth thread for that.)

Here I want to shift to a different thread in the tapestry of the 2K argument. In my reading this morning I happened to be in Romans 13, a key passage for one’s understanding of the role of the civil magistrate, the civil authorities of the secular nations (one of the two kingdoms in the 2K position, the sacred, the Church being the other). Before engaging further with the argument I’m about to make, let me ask you to read Romans 13 so it will be fresh in your memory.

Note the basic pattern of the chapter:

  • Verses 1-4: the civil magistrate” role as God’s ordained minister to administer civil justice.
  • Verses 5-7: the Christian’s public-square response to the civil magistrate in his exercise of his authority.
  • Verses 8-10: the Christian’s interaction with others in the public square in light of the of the civil magistrate's exercise of his authority.
  • Verses 11-14: the Christian’s "private house" obedience to God in light of eschatological considerations.

Note specifically verse 9b-10. There the second great commandment provides the summary justification for why the Christian is submissive in the public square to the civil magistrate's authority. It is not because this authority inheres in the civil magistrate, but because it is from God. Submission to the second great commandment is part of the Christian life (no duh), and this finds explicit expression in how we submit to the civil magistrate.

I don't expect there is any disagreement between pro and anti-2K up to this point. But let me make one debatable observation. When Paul goes to apply, the exemplify his reference to the role of the civil magistrate note where he specifically goes – to the 2nd Table of the Mosaic law (commandment 5 through 10). Note what he does not mention, any law from the 1st Table of the Mosaic Law (commandments 1 through 4). He does not even make an application from the 1st Table. Nor are there any 1st Table inferences present in what Paul says.

Even when he gets into verses 11-14, where it could be argued his focus shifts from public square issues, to "private house" issues (i.e., how we live behind closed doors), Paul still does not make any reference or inference to 1st Table considerations. Again his examples are expressly 2nd Table considerations!

Now, it is admitted that this is an argument from silence, or better yet, an argument from absence. Absent from what Paul says is any reference to 1st Table considerations. This does not mean that the absence here means the absence elsewhere in Scripture.

Yet at least it is a strong argument leaning in the direction of the 2K position that the civil magistrate in the New Covenant era only has authority over 2nd Table issues. It is almost as if Paul is providing a commentary on Jesus' bifurcated render to caesar/God command (Mt 22:21; Mk 12:17; Lk 12:25). In the one place in his letters where Paul offers the fullest explanation of the gospel (comprehensively Romans is an explanation of the gospel), when it comes to a key application of the Christian life, when Paul expressly brings into view the Christian's public square relationship – it did not cross his mind to say anything about 1st Table issues.

This is a very, very strong biblically based inferential argument in support of the 2K position. The civil magistrate in the New Covenant era has no authority over 1st Table issues. These are not in Caesar's purview, but they are reserved exclusively to his Church, and her alone.

(Reed DePace)

The Neatly Ordered Ordinary

(Posted by Paige Britton)

On Canon, Providence, and Robinson Crusoe

{Belated disclaimer: This is not a full-orbed defense or description of the Protestant doctrine of canonization. I could write that if I wanted to; in this case, I didn’t want to.}

It’s been remarked recently, in our discussion on the canon, that it is necessary for the supernatural gift of the Scriptures to have reached the church in nothing other than a supernatural way. This is, of course, the Catholic version of the story, which identifies the Roman Church’s divinely-appointed magisterium as the supernaturally endowed channel that protects the church from error. Ordinary means are good enough to transmit something natural or ordinary, like the Pythagorean Theorem; but the extraordinary must be delivered by the extraordinary.

Protestant appeals to “Providence” in this matter understandably ring hollow in Catholic ears, for how can the mundane course of historical events safely support or explain the holy? And isn’t “Providence” almost synonymous with “fate,” “luck,” or “chance,” since the outcome of, say, Roe v. Wade, or the formation of the biblical canon, are by this account equally matters of God’s incomprehensibly mysterious machinations? Surely something as important as communicating which books belong in the Bible would have been accomplished in a more obviously supernatural and officially authoritative way!

Now, I am sensing a sort of leitmotif in RC theology here. Those things and people that are considered holy are wrapped in a kind of protective glow, like a halo on a Christmas card, that sets them apart from the merely earthly. There is an intimation here of extreme tidiness; these things are clean and sparkly, unsullied by association with the common. This has a sort of spiritual, even biblical, logic to it: after all, a high and holy God would never stoop to deliver the supernatural by natural means! Too risky!

Or would he? What’s more fitting than that the God of the universe, who slipped into human history by way of a woman’s womb and a feeding trough, should so arrange things that his written word could be identified (yea, even identified as inspired!) by the ordinary expedients of time, text, and people? Why wouldn’t such a God intend that knowledge of the supernatural be mixed up cleverly with the stuff of earthly life?

There is a scene in Robinson Crusoe that is as nifty a parable about Providence and our expectations of it as anybody could write. Here’s Crusoe on his island, not yet converted, and one day he is floored by the discovery of a small stand of cereal grains growing in a corner of his compound. He knows he didn’t plant them, and he has seen nothing of the sort anywhere else on the island. The best conclusion he can come to is that he has been the recipient of a miracle of spontaneous germination! For days he walks around in the glow of a spiritual high – until it occurs to him that a little while ago he’d dumped a pile of old, rat-gnawed husks in that corner to free a feed sack for another use, and no doubt some overlooked kernels must have sprouted. Immediately the supernatural collapses into the natural, the extraordinary into the ordinary, and his spiritual glow is extinguished. It’s not till long afterwards, when the eyes of his heart have been enlightened by the Spirit and the Word, that he has sense enough to be stunned by the neat ordering of ordinary events that led to viable seeds scattered accidentally in the only place they could have safely grown, thus providing for him the stuff of life.

If we are looking for a tidy, safe way to know what we need to know, Roman Catholic theology offers a package deal, appealing to our preference for certainty over trust and our fascination with the otherworldly and the miraculous.

Trouble is, the biblical God doesn’t tend to live up to these expectations;

…and after all, it’s the neatly ordered ordinary that should bring us to our knees.