Key Biblical Texts


Created to Comprehend - Appendix 3

Job 38:2 God speaks out of the storm: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?"

God seems very upset at what had transpired in the book of Job. His initial statement has often been paraded about as confirmation of humanity's inability to know God, our smallness, and our general tendency to irritate God with our aspirations. People often cite this text and say "See! Our words about God are without knowledge! We can't know anything about God!"

But the brashness of this conclusion becomes evident when we get to Job 42. Here Job says he knows two things: (1) that no plan of God's can be thwarted, and (2) that God can do all things (verse 2). God, in speaking to Job's friends, affirms that Job's knowledge of God was correct! " have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has" (verse 7).

Job admits that he spoke without knowledge (verse 3), but this does not mean that everything Job knew was false.

James 1:6 "But when he asks he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."

Initially this verse seems to blatantly support the claim that authentic faith = doubtlessness. There are 2 reasons why we should refrain from jumping to this conclusion. First: as we pan out from this verse and look at the context, we see that James is telling us to believe a particular thing without doubting. He is specifically saying that we should not doubt that God will give out wisdom abundantly to all who ask.  James is not necessarily saying that we have to believe everything about God without doubt. 

Second: the Greek word translated as "doubt" (diakrino) in this verse is used in multiple ways in the rest of the New testament. 

(1) The cognitive (mind) definition of the term, as in: "The Minnesota Vikings may win the Super Bowl this year, but I diakrino it." This is the purely mental application of the term, meaning: to be uncertain.

(2) the volitional (will) definition, as in: "If you try to break into my house I will diakrino you at the door!" This use of the term is more about being in direct opposition to someone or something. We find this use frequently in the New Testament. See, for instance, Jude 1:9, where Michael the archangel is arguing with Satan. Likewise the term is used to express the active opposition between the circumcised in Jerusalem and the uncircumcised Peter (Acts 11:2). See also the warning in Acts 10:20 not to diakrino the travelers God had sent.

(3) The taxonomical definition, as in: "apples are diakrino from oranges." This use of the term expresses a descriptive distinction between people or things. See, for instance, Acts 15:9 where the term is used in the negative to say that God no longer diakrino between the Jews and the Gentiles. 

So the question is: which sense is James using the term in? Certainty-seekers assume he is using it in the cognitive sense (1). But I think he is using it in the volitional sense (2). The verse falls in the middle of James' discussion on enduring trials and tribulations for God. He assumes people are either faithful to God, or not. urges his readers to stick to their commitment to God and endure the varieties of trials and testing they are experiencing (verses 2-4). Soon after, in verse 8, he says that the person who diakrinos is like a person with 2 souls, which makes him unstable in all he does. He goes on to talk about people being dragged away(14), but urges his readers to stand firm and endure the testing (12). 

All of these ideas are about 2 sides in great opposition: God's side, and not-God's side. James is clearly emphasizing something far more encompassing than cognitive uncertainty. He is emphasizing the commitment of one's entire personhood. He is highlighting the importance of being in allegiance with the right side. People in opposition are unstable (8), like waves in the sea (6), who will be dragged away (14). James delineates the 2 sides clearly: Do not be duped into thinking there are good things on the not-God side, for all good things are from God (17). And don't think that bad things come from God, for he is not in opposition (diakrino) with himself (13).

So when James says that one must believe and not doubt in verse 6, what he is really saying is: "God gives wisdom generously if you ask. But when you ask you must be on the right side, committed to God - you must not be in opposition to God." In this understanding, which I think is correct, we can be in full allegiance with God and still have doubts about God. That is, we can be volitionally certain, while having all sorts of cognitive uncertainties. 

Genesis 22 - Abraham and Isaac

Mystery-seekers LOVE the Abraham and Isaac story. They see Abraham's act as being totally absurd and irrational, yet Abraham follows through with it anyway, in total obedience to God. Rationality, they say, doesn't matter. Real faith is the willingness to be totally irrational. But I would argue that Abraham's actions were not irrational, as shocking as they were. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham had things well thought out. He "assumed God would raise Isaac from the dead." Abraham's actions, in his mind, were not absurd at all. They made perfect sense. Everything was well planned out and based on evidence (evidence of God's faithfulness and love). For more on this, see: Awkward Father's Days of the Old Testament.

[this post is still "in progress"]

Future texts to discuss:

Hebrews 11:1

  • CATEGORY: theology for your God-shaped hole

  • 09-17-2013

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