Tuesday, January 4, 2011

About God's Compassion (Ps 145:9 & Rom 9:15-16)

Recently, Sister Liz puts up an article on God’s compassion in which she genuinely queried about God’s compassion. Principally, she has 2 texts, Ps 145:8-9 and Rom 9:15-16. Ps 145:9 said that the LORD is good to all {men} He has made, He has compassion on all of them; whereas Rom 9:15-16 said that God will have mercy on whom He have mercy, and He will have compassion on whom He has compassion. It does not depend on man’s desire or effort but on His mercy.

Sister Liz’s issue was that, whether God really has compassion on all men He made (Ps 145:9 said so) when God also said that He will have compassion on whom He has compassion on (which seems to suggest it can happen that He may not have compassion on some), and that compassion depended not on man’s desire or effort, but on His mercy (Rom 9:15-16). Sister Liz said, “So how?”

Sister Liz looked up John Gill’s expositions and other references, and in the end she concluded this:

“So now I understand that truly God is compassionate to all the chosen people of a God, the elect, who love Him and is loved by Him, redeemed and justified by Him and not generally to mean compassionate to all He has created.”

I would like to provide some understanding, and perspective on the issue.

John Gill’s exposition, I do not quite agree
Firstly, John Gill’s implying that verses 8-9 were specific to a select group of people, “the elect”, I do not think it was quite correct {There is claim that John Gill was hyper-Calvinistic, Perhaps, general predestination of personal salvation notion got in the way. My stance is that I do not believe in general predestination of personal salvation.}.

His narrowing of the compassion is not appropriate; rather compassion (and good) there, should be interpreted in its largest scope. And so, compassion (and good) there should include, and not exclude, general and providential goodness to all men. A lot of people cannot see that some of the verses in the Old Testament (OT) were referring to Jesus, but at the same time, it is not appropriate to “force” Jesus into clearly “non-Jesus” texts, although “types” are common. To say that “elect” or chosen people or believers or new creations (because of the “He made”, in the verses) were the only ones being addressed in those few verses of Ps 145, is “forcing” it, and is not appropriate.

Theology and doctrines are not formed out of experience, per se
There is a place for experience in a Christian’s walk, yet theology and doctrines are not formed out of experience, rather experience testifies to the truths of God, and much of those, are written in the Word of God (although there is much that we, men, may not have understood; we say we do not have revelation of what was written). For example, just because some enter into salvation, and some don’t, does not necessarily imply there is a general predestination of personal salvation by God.

When it is of His nature, it is of His nature
When the Bible says God is good. It means what is says, God is good. God is good even if today I am divorced by my spouse; God is good even if I am stricken with cancer; God is good even if I lost a leg; God is good even if I were Job of the Bible. While it is true that being a believer is important, in fact, it is no exaggeration to say it is everything, yet the goodness of God is of His nature, nothing to do with our status, yet the compassion of God is of His nature, nothing to do with whether or not, we are Christians or non-Christians. Even if we narrow the target people to the elect, the same observation still holds – some do not “get” that God’s compassion they sought for.

Theocentricism Vs Anthropocentricism
In biblical interpretations, we must adopt a theocentric view (God-centred view), and not an anthropocentric view (man-centred view). Many people cannot see what I said in the preceding paragraph, because I believe, they thought they have a better grasp {man-perspective} of goodness, compassion, and love, and so, they view God and God’s truths and ways, through their own human lenses, rather than gleaning from the whole counsel of the Word, of how God revealed of Himself. Concerning such as goodness, compassion, and love, man thinks he knows a lot {and thus he looks at scriptures through his own human lenses}, however, if you think about holiness, unquestionably, it comes out different; oh, oh, that is about God; it is how He is, in fact, we scarcely grasp holiness, and so, we more readily accepts it as the way He is; He is Holiness (of course, for some, because they grasp not, they completely ignore holiness as anything).

Compassion is in the Nature of God
God’s compassion was there for one even before he becomes a Christian. God’s goodness was there before a person becomes a believer. Much compassion was extended out to Man. In fact, Jesus’ dying on the Cross was and is compassion for all men (1 John 2:2). It is the high expression of God’s passion for Man. Even today, many people around the world, across all of time, and they were and are, not Christians, but God had and has extended goodness and compassion, in various ways and forms, to them. It is wrong for people to say, you are healed because you are a Christian, and he is not healed because he is not a Christian. It is wrong for people to say, I have long life because I am a Christian, you are going to die young because you are not a Christian. Yes, when the time of reckoning comes, there is a divide, but until then, the love of God, the compassion and the goodness of God, they do not flow out according to that divide, as in, nil for he who is on the wrong side of the fence.

Jesus’ ministry not resisted to elects
Just look at the miracles and the healings recorded for us in the Bible, Jesus did them without such patterning. Jesus had compassion for the 5,000 men, and He healed them and He fed all of them. How many of them actually believed Him before receiving His compassion? How many of them actually believed Him after receiving His compassion? Following from that miraculous feeding, with the discourse of Jesus at Capernaum, not many really believed Him, yet Jesus already healed many of them, and fed all of them. You can read of this in John 6.

Mission work in poor and needy nations/peoples reflected otherwise
Those who had been to such missions will report that God used them to heal and perform miracles on many who knew little or nothing about the gospel. God's compassion flowed out and touched and healed many without necessitating the persons to have had received Jesus into their lives. God’s compassion went out to those needing compassion, regardless of their status of being a believer or not. If you want to see God’s compassion flowing through you with signs and wonders and miracles, go to the poor and the needy, the sick, the rural, and the shunned peoples.

Apostle Paul did not get the compassion he sought
In 2 Cor 12:7-9, we read of the Apostle Paul’s affliction, thorn in the flesh. It does not matter, what interpretation you give to “thorn” in that text (in v7), still it was something that greatly affected Paul; it tormented Paul (v7). God was not removing the “thorn” despite 3 times Paul pleaded with God. Paul was obviously an elect, but still in this instance, God did not “heal” him {“heal”, if you believe he was diseased, “set him free”, if you believe the “thorn” was a person, or a bondage, etc}.

{Actually, I believe I just understood another thing, from this Paul’s affliction, through this examination of the question posed, perhaps, I will write about it in days to come.}

But the question is a legitimate one
Yes, the question is a legitimate one, and it shows, we want to understand, and that is what God wants, when we meditate on His word. The answer to the question is:

Yes, God really has compassion on all men {no point talking about animals} He has made; and He will have compassion on whom He has compassion on; and God’s compassion depends on God’s mercy and not on man’s desire or effort. Let me explain:

It is in His nature
It is in God’s nature, compassion, I mean. We did not in any way shape Him. He exists {no beginning, no end} and He was and is like that, full of compassion; we are His creation, who came afterwards. God has compassion, not only for this man, or that man, but for all men, and God does not, just have compassion today, or had it yesterday and no other day, He has compassion from day 1. So, when we look at God’s compassion, per se, it is really not difficult to appreciate God does have compassion for all of men.

But God is not just compassion
Just as we can picture God’s multi-personhood, we should know there are different elements to God’s nature. Jesus is friend; Jesus is also brother, king, Lord, and God. Similarly, God is compassion, but He is not just compassion, He is wisdom, He is righteousness, and He is holiness.

I am a playmate to my children, but I am not just their playmate; I am their teacher and their father as well. They will not always have me playing with them all the time; “who I am”, “prevent me” from playing with them all the time. When the need to instruct comes higher, I instruct them over playing with them. This is a simplistic illustration, but I hope you get the idea.

Apart from compassion, there are the dictates of His higher nature, prime of which are sovereignty, wisdom, and holiness and righteousness. On the personhood side, God is first of all, God, and the chief attributes represented that personhood are sovereignty and wisdom. The personhood and the nature-hood of God work together, to give “Who He is” (or the “I AM”).

Know the highest personhood and nature-hood
We must understand that, the “GOD-personhood” and the “HOLINESS nature-hood” of God rank highest; many do not know this, because many churches defer to men, preferring not to talk about things men do not like to hear. People like to hear the love of God, compassion of God, and faithfulness of God, often painted through the lenses of man, and these are preached countless times, until it slips people’s mind that God is first of all, God, and first of all, holiness. When we lose sight of these 2 aspects of God, our lenses become distorted, and we cannot interpret Scriptures the way it should be.

Compassion ranks high, yet “God-personhood” ranks highest (holiness co-ranks that)
Compassion ranks high; God is compassion, He wanted and wants to be compassionate towards all men, it is an important element of Him, and so looking at that, per se, it is true that God has compassion on all men.

He will have compassion on whom He has compassion on (NOT He MUST, on ALL), shows up when His “God-personhood” is needed at the forefront. The key attributes of that “God-personhood” are sovereignty and wisdom.

A simple illustration
I give you my simple illustration of a few years ago, when the Lord led me to minister to a young man (who had just become a Christian) who had problem handling compassion.

When the young man accepted Jesus, the Lord had made tender his heart, and he could “feel” compassion for people. He was “infected” by God, who is compassion. His issue was how much was he to follow through with the compassion, was he to keep giving of his money or time, etc? This young man had his constraints, and so, his first issue was how far must he go?

I told this young man that, suppose a beggar came to him, and asked him for some money, what would he have done? He said he would give something. And I said, alright, suppose with compassion, and after “looking over” the beggar, he gave $10.00 to the beggar; but the next day, the beggar told his friend that there was this young man at such and such a place, who was very kind to him and had given him $10.00. I said when this friend of the first beggar came to him (the young man), what would he do?

He said he would give the man, $10.00. Then I said, “What if he appears double pitiful, and has expected $20.00 from you?” Then, he said, “That is the point, I felt bad not having been able to meet such expectations. In this case, the man expected $20.00, and I could only give him $10.00!” To which I said, “Why don’t you give him $20.00?” The young man said, “But I have my own constraints; sometimes, I saw requests were genuine and I wanted to help, and help more, but I could not; sometimes, they were not genuine, at least, not so pressing, like they (some people) insisted that I helped them on a particular day, when I really was constrained to help.”

I explained to the young man that it was right to have compassion (and we should have compassion), for our God is full of compassion; help if he could, to give a little, if he could, of money or time or in other forms {we can do something, but we need not do everything asked for}.

Then I told him when it was out of compassion he gave, he gave of his own accord, people could not {should not} demand, he did not “owe” them. The money was his, and his time was his; it was up to him to decide how much to give. But the young man retorted, “But I feel bad.” I told him, “No, you should not feel bad. What if the next day, the 2 beggars bring 10 other beggars each to you, are you going give to all the 20 beggars? Worse still, what if each one of them, comes telling even more pitiful stories, and has expected you to give them more?”

The illustration tells 2 things
The story illustrated 2 important things: One, that compassion is not extended in vacuum; there are constraints, for the young man, and even for anyone of us. Two, even if there is no constraints on our part, still we decide, we own that which is given out.

But one may argue that God is without constraints. Is it really? God does not have the same constraints as the young man, but God is constrained by “Who He is”. For one thing, “Who He is” has wisdom, and holiness and righteousness rolled in, plus a few others.

The young man has to learn to decide, and I told him that he was to do it without “feeling bad”. If we take out the young man, and put in God, it is God decides, because He is God; He controls all and it is His to grant. The key attributes of that God-personhood are sovereignty and wisdom, and they would come forth together with other attributes in “Who He is” to “constrains” Him, if He will have compassion on A or B or none at all.

Considered graciousness
God’s compassion flows out according to His mercy, and not dependant on man’s desire or effort. What is mercy? Mercy is we not getting the ill-consequence that is coming to us. So, when we say God has mercy on a person, we are saying that God has decided to intervene according to His wisdom and understanding (not ours) and love, such that the ill-consequence is set aside. God’s mercy is not law, but it is still a considered graciousness on the part of God.

I believe God wants to be gracious to us as far as possible, for He loves us, because He made the choice of creating us, but yet because of His God-personhood, He still needs to consider, and that is why God’s compassion flows out according to His considered graciousness (mercy), not dependant on man’s desire or effort.

A simple example to illustrate, suppose, this morning, before leaving the house, you looked out of the window and you saw the sky was full of dark clouds, indicating that it might rain, but still you decided not to take an umbrella with you when you left home. The ill-consequence of that is that you are going to get wet, and (let’s say) catch a cold. Suppose God sends a handsome young man with an extra umbrella; in God’s mercy you avoided the rain, avoided the ill-consequence of getting wet and sick. If God did not intervene, you “had it coming”; God did not “owe” you, to have to send an umbrella to you.

Although, there are many situations quite outside of “you had it coming” {your fault!}, the point is that some ill-consequences are coming your way, and God is not responsible for them, and then He has to decide if He will intervene to set aside those consequences for you – a considered graciousness, when you receive His compassion.

Actually the question is generic
Actually, the whole thing, if we look at it honestly, it is no different from a generic scenario of asking the question of why God does not grant us, all our requests.

What we do not like, is ill-consequence {to us} which we want set aside. What we like is what the compassion of God brings. The Apostle Paul said in Scripture {Rom 9:22-23} that we are object of wrath {God’s wrath}, due to The Fall of Man, and we are object of mercy {God’s mercy}, for God still desires to aid us despite the coming on, of the ill-consequences of The Fall. And so, really, much of what is extended by God to us, is rightly, in many scriptures, described as mercy. In the great mercy of God, Adam and Eve were not struck dead by God instantly, when He had previously said they shall surely die, if they disobeyed (concerning The Fall). Every goodness of God extended to Man thereafter, in the largest picture, is mercy of God and grace of God.

For an everyday example, we could be wanting a good-paying manager job. What we are telling God is that, for such and such of our qualifications, because of such and such that we did not manage well in the past, if God, you do not have compassion {mercy} on us, we might have to work as a ……, have to do ….. and get a pay of only…. etc, etc. We are in effect, praying for God’s compassion that we do not end up with a “lousy job” – what we do not like, the ill-consequence of what we did not manage well in the past.

Of course, in life, there are consequences that were “purely” due to the fallen world nature running its course; nonetheless, because they are “ill”, we naturally want them set aside for us.

Not at all!
A common lament: How come so and so, were born in rich families, but not me?! What then shall I say? Is God unjust? The Apostle Paul answered for such questions, in verse 14 of Romans 9, and he said “Not at all!” I believe Paul was able to answer as such, because he has a greater comprehension of the wisdom of God. It is God’s wisdom that matters, not ours. It is God’s overall set-up for Man, and even the same for a particular man, that matters, not what Man or that man’s idea of how things should be lined up for him. We must grasp this AND accept.

Then is it according to His whim and fancy?
You may then say, “Brother Anthony, you mean it is all up to God, if He likes, He will grant (compassion or mercy, and blessing), if He does not, He will not.” Yes, if we take it that what He likes is governed by Who He is.

For example, we can be sure God does not like wickedness, for wickedness runs contrary to Who He is. And so, if you promote wickedness, He will not be on your side. If you want to cheat people of their hard-earned money, but you tell God to have compassion on you so that you will not be caught and be put to shame and to jail, do you think God will let His compassion flows out to you to ensure you will not be caught? No, “Who He is” “constrains” Him. {I am not saying 100% God will not have compassion on such a person, but you can be sure that while He might still accept the person, He does not and cannot approve the man's wicked ways. It is the same as saying that God came to justify {render righteous} the wicked (if you are not wicked at all, you have no need for God's justification) but at the same time, God does not justify the cause of the wicked.}

On the other hand, if you, after exhausting all your annual leave asked for time off, to go see a friend who was suddenly hospitalized, and you had meant to come back to the office within the time required to avoid the time-off being counted as taking a half-day unpaid leave, but you were held by your friend who wanted to know more about Jesus while lying on the hospital bed, very sick. You committed it to the Lord, and stayed longer and shared the gospel with your friend, and then you went back to the office, arriving later than the cut-off time. You prayed to God for the understanding of your supervisor. It can be that God will have compassion on you and you get off, without a half-day pay being deducted from you, for what you desired and went on to do, was in alignment with Who He is, and that can draw Him to intervene for you concerning your time-off.

Now, if the last time this happened to you, and you got half-day’s pay deducted from you, despite praying to God, it still did not mean that your desire and action had not caught the admiration of God, but it could be that God just felt that it was alright for you to sacrifice that half-day pay for the sake of the gospel. God might have just made a note somewhere in His diary!

Our part is to know Him
What I am saying is that our part is to get to know Him, Who He is, be aligned to that, and trust Him that when our desire is to please Him, and to glorify Him, He knows, and likes it; whatever it is, He will take care of us, according to His wisdom and understanding (not ours), and we have nothing to worry about. It is not cliché. Many, including me, have no idea how much it entails to get to this state. If you think there is no “getting there”, and you think you are “there already”, you are probably too skewed towards the overly grace teaching, and you better rethink.

God has compassion on all men, and God will have compassion on whom He has compassion. Both are valid.

It is not that God’s compassion is holding true only for the elect, but rather as a believer you have the Word and you have the Holy Spirit, you have been greatly endowed to get to where the considered graciousness (mercy) of God will find you, and carry you through life’s journey.

Anthony Chia - Lord, may you like me more, even as you love me. The world might have, have it wrong. Maybe, you love all men, but you will like some of us more than others, as it is first of all, your prerogative, and secondly, why would you not like any who is after your own heart. In other words, Lord, may I not only get to know you more, but also to please you, as David did. Amen.

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