Monday, August 16, 2004

Romans 8:28 and the Great Divide

Alas, I seem to not be getting many comments anymore. Nevertheless, I post on.

With recent posts on the differences between Arminian and Calvist views, it seems the relevance to our faith was lost in the banter of big words. So, I bring into light the great divide between the two major views on the ever-quoted Romans 8:28. As we shall see, these differences affect how we live, because they influence how we think God works.

I shant quote the verse here, because there are grossly different translations of this verse. Instead, I begin by defining a few things: "We" are those who love God and are called according to His purpose of Salvation. "Good" must be understood to be so as judged by God, rather than people. Two views exist, which I give in list-form for clarity and brevity. I have attempted to write each view in a concise way that portrays the important connotations of the view. I present them as follows:

  1. God works with us to bring about good action (more Arminian)

    This view is exemplified by the Revised Standard Version: "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." (RSV). This is my view, which holds that:

    • God is the subject that brings about good action in partnership with us.

    • In the Greek, 'together' is literally 'work together, help in work, partner in labour' according to Strongs.

    • God works with each of us in co-operation with him so that we become more Christlike (inner action)

    • Out of this Christlikeness, we can initiate and perform good deeds in the world (outer action)

    • We can also act as facilitators for acts initiated and performed by the Holy Spirit (outer action)

    • 'Good action' is thus both toward us (inner) and toward others (outer)

    • Naturally, God only can work with those who love God and co-operate with His purposes.

    • This has nothing to do with our state of happiness or our circumstances.

  2. God controls all things to have a good effect (Calvinist)

    This view is exemplified by the New Living Translation: "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." It is presumably based on the KJV. Proponents of this view are forced to conclude - whether they like it or not:

    • "All things" are the subject that has a 'good effect' on us because they are controlled by God.

    • God does not change things, but rather is controlling them as they occur.

    • Because God is all-powerful and controlling all things, it suggests ALL things that influence us are exactly as He desires.
      • (The interpretation implies that there are no things that have a truely bad effect on Christians.)
      • (Note the deduction that God is therefore responsible for evil things in the world.)

    • "All things" also include evil (sinful) things. These things are being controlled by God, so they are not actually evil, but instead are good - because God is using them to ultimately have a good effect.
      • (Note that this undermines the premise that these deeds were truely evil to begin with.)
      • (This view is used to encouraged people to be happy about tragedy and evil.)
      • (God respects the free will, and therefore free action, of people. Surely, "all things" includes not only good that people do out of their own free will, but also evil. There are all manner of blantant evil sins in the world, which often directly influence Believers. Does God control these things also? In order to control them, would He not have to control and over-ride the free-will of people? I do not believe He does, for it goes against the nature of a true relationship, and therefore I do not believe God controls "all things." If He does not control all things, He cannot ensure that all things have a good effect on us.)

    • God does not exert this beneficial control to those who do not love Him.
      • (Note this implies God is willingly and deliberately not acting when He has the opportunity to facilitate non-Christians into relationship with Him.)

    • This view has everything to do with circumstances, because they are what God is controlling to achieve good effect.
      • (This is seperate to the good deeds we perform and the actions the Holy Spirit performs.)

    • Like view 1, this view should have nothing to do with our state of happiness - though it is often used to try to make people feel happy.
      • (Many people who are, for example, grieving, hate to be told that "it's all for the best" - and it is for good reason! Being told God is controlling such tragedy portrays God as an unloving and ungracious God, not a loving Father! It plays down the validy of their tragedy to some twisted kind of 'good' instead of the tragedy it is. God does not need to make someone a tetraplegic in order to use them better for the Kingdom! He is concerned with the heart - for it is that which determines fitness for service. God is well-capable of using someone without tetraplegia just as much as that person with tetraplegia. )

    • This should not be confused with God working with us in the midst of evil (or tragedy), and even making use of that evil, to help us become moreChristlike and perform good deeds.

Now, there are problems with the second view. I will not expand on these problems because I hope they are reasoably obvious. The Greek appears to naturally mean that God is our 'partner in the labour of good action', which of course most Christians would agree with. This good action is broken down into inner action that occurs in our hearts, and outer action that we may initiate out of our Christlike character or merely facilitate as the Holy Spirit wills. This first view is in contrast to the view that God controls all things to achieve a good outcome.

In my most humble-yet-opinionated view, the first of these is sensible, the second is heretical - and we best learn to tell the difference.


Kelly said...

I think, because your understanding of the first view on Rom 8.28 is better, you have presented a really good case for it. I however, lean more towards the second view, which you have represented slightly less convincingly. But I need to think about how to explain it in words.

I may have to comment later, but for now, I do think we have to accept that God is totally sovereign, and even though he allows free will, he actively allows it. It's not just like he goes "oh, whoops, such-and-such screwed up, let's see if I can make something good with it". He is all knowing and all powerful. Here is where you say "of course, you've misinterpreted me entirely, I accept the sovereignty of God etc" -- that's why I need to think about how to say this better.

Secondly, the second view is best viewed in a personal light. You can't tell other people that whatever happens to them is God's will, like you demonstrated with the tragedy example. But I do think that part of our worship and relationship with God is submission to everything he has placed in our lives -- that is, if we give our lives to him and submit to him, surely he will care for us in the best possible way? We have to accept by faith that all that comes our way is through his will, even if it results from the free choice of our fellow human beings. We can then get to the state where we don't even blame them for what they do to us, but merely accept it and praise God for his willingness to use all things to transform us into his likeness.

But even though I said that it's a personal faith thing, I'm still trying to convince you , haha that's the hypocrisy of me. I've seen a great quote where the writer says anything here worthy is from God's inspiration, anything that is wrong is from myself trying to second guess His words.

incognito said...

Thanks for your comment Kai. In response to your first point on the sovereignty of God, I suggest you read one of my earlier posts entitled "Sovereignty and control." No doubt you will disagree with my view, but at least it will explain my stand on the issue.

You have correctly pointed out that God does indeed guide the steps of the righteous. As a loving Father He guides us in the best direction - although we can still disobey His directions. I agree we should be completely open and surrendered to God (I should post on this topic) and the Holy Spirit within us.

Feel free to comment on your view here, I would be keen to hear it.

Andrew said...

[[Alas, I seem to not be getting many comments anymore. Nevertheless, I post on.]]

You're not being controversial enough. If you want comments and debate you need to be provokative. You need less conservative statements and more outrageous challenging of the status quo. ;) Say something that people haven't thought of before, say it in a way that's new to them, make them think. Good interviewers always take up a position that's contrary to the person they are interviewing, they challenge them with statements, assertions and questions that an opponent might give in order to provoke a response and generate discussion. If you want enthusiastic discussion, you need to find something you believe that is just a little bit (or even a lot) different to what the people reading your blog think, and advocate it. Emphasise and exaggerate it and you should get a response. ;)

Another useful thing is to present the conclusion first and the evidence second. If you start off with the evidence and work toward the natural conclusion, your conclusion is shown to be rational and people don't feel (as much) that they can disagree with you. ;)

michelle said...

OR if you want more posts just talk about relationships/boys/girls... always a winner...

Personally, i like your posts, and i still read them, just dont comment much cos i dont feel that my insights are all that smart, heh heh :)

Katherine said...

Well I just wanted to say, I have joined the blogging community and do come over and visit me some time on
You've gotta be a little impressed, by the way, that I've found a different way to say that same thing on all these blogs all in one night.
May your days be merry and bright, and the sunshine of sweet elation be upon you. (sorry, my blessings are getting worse) - kt

Andrew said...

If you have a look at how I use Romans 8:28 in my dodgy paraphrased version (see my blog), you'll see I ended up taking a somewhat middle-line in the interpretation in order to best fit it in with the rest of the paragraph... thus revealing your divide to be a false dichotomy... ;)