Friday, 18 April 2014

Abandoned by God?

Credit: Erik Mauer,
Flickr Creative Commons
This morning I came across a verse that made me stop and think a while:

For this reason God gave them over and abandoned them to vile affections and degrading passions” (Romans 1:26; Amplified)

Does God abandon people?

What a frightening thought! Three times in the same paragraph Paul said that God gave them up. Does that seem odd to you? I suspect that many of us quickly pass over verses like these.

Perhaps the problem that many of us have with this is that we would argue that, since God is love, He could not possibly abandon anyone regardless of whatever other baggage we come packed with. After all, did God not say, “never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)? Could it be, however, that many of us miss the bigger picture of God’s holiness and justice? God will never abandon a true child who comes to Him with faith in the Lord Jesus, but He will ultimately abandon those who continually refuse to accept Christ by becoming His sons and daughters. God is the Creator of all, but He is not necessarily the Father of all.

As I thought about this some more, I began to wonder if there are not at least two different ways to look at abandonment by God. There is a situational abandonment and a positional abandonment. Both are unfortunate, both involve non-Christians, but only one has eternal consequences.

Situational Abandonment

In Romans 1:26 Paul is referring to a situational abandonment. These people have rejected God’s truth and believed a lie. They essentially worship themselves (Romans 1:25) and do whatever they want to do, regardless of what God wants for them, and regardless of what God’s holiness demands of them. Ultimately there is no excuse for this (Romans 1:20), but by their actions they prove that they simply want their own way more than they want God’s way. Such people, some of which ironically also claim to be Christians, have in truth turned their backs on God and become little more than idolators. Harsh? Maybe.

Donald Grey Barnhouse once said, “Man away from God is always an idolator.” As we all know, idolatry can take all sorts of forms, and as such there are many things in life that can cause us to be guilty of idolatry. Essentially, if God plays second fiddle to anything else in our lives, that then makes us idolators. This is not about being legalistic and preaching Law instead of Grace; it’s about discerning God’s heart. While God is love, He is not into idolatry. He wants the first place, not the leftovers.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10; NIV)
Does God abandon people who deliberately keep on ignoring the teaching in verses such as the preceding, and thus, ignoring His will? I think He does in the sense that He gives them over to their own will. The thing I find strange is that many of us still look to God to bless us and answer our prayers when all the while we’ve deliberately ignored His will. When everything is going well, many folks ignore God. However, when things begin to go amiss, they superficially come running back, at least until the crisis of the troubling situation has resolved itself. But God is not fooled; He knows the heart.

Still, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), God is always looking for our return, but He doesn’t force our hand. In situational abandonment God simply gives us a free will to do our own thing and leaves us to face the consequences for our own choices and depravity. It pains Him to see us in the cesspools we’re in, but He will not force a Saviour upon us that we do not really want with all our hearts.

The offer of adoption into the family of God, and all the blessings that go with it, is unfortunately often left on the table by many who prove by their lifestyle choices that they prefer to be idolators and not give God the glory and worship and thanksgiving that is due Him. “For this reason God gave them over and abandoned them to vile affections and degrading passions” (Romans 1:26; Amplified). Still, there is hope; repentance can still happen, and that is my prayer.

Positional Abandonment

At the risk of sounding like a “hell-fire and brimstone” blogger (which normally I am not), left unrepented, there then ultimately follows a positional abandonment. This is eternal and happens at the individual’s physical death. God is now no longer looking for the return of the prodigal, yet they will briefly meet again at the final judgment following death (Hebrews 9:27). Salvation is now no longer even an option if we wanted it, as there now is a “great chasm” (Luke 16:26) permanently fixed between heaven and hell. In positional abandonment a form of Russian Roulette has been played and lost, as the player’s deathbed caught up with him before he took the time to make peace with God through Jesus Christ. Now it’s too late, and as someone once said, there’s all eternity to live with the regret of it all.

Positional abandonment is a horrible thought, and yet the Bible does teach it. It is not a popular message, and maybe it’s even become a politically incorrect message, but as Christians we would all be negligent if we did not seek to help our friends and loved ones to avoid this positional abandonment by God. How do we do that? We do it by genuinely and unpretentiously loving them and introducing them to life in Jesus. There is no other way (John 14:6). It is not about “fire insurance,” as some have suggested, as much as it is about helping others to discover the love of God in Christ Jesus that you and I cherish so much.

Is God unjust?

I know there are a lot of folks who still struggle with this. They prefer to only look to the love of God at the expense of ignoring His holiness and justice. And yet ironically, we often cry to God for justice when we’ve been wronged. As the old saying goes, “we want our cake and eat it too.” We want His love, but we seem not to want His sovereignty. We want salvation for all, but we don’t want to have to give up a sinful and worldly lifestyle in the process. We want it our way, and we do not want anyone else to tell us how to live our lives, including God.

But then we’re faced with these verses: “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:14-16; NIV). What are we to do with that?

Maybe God’s abandonment of some is a blessing for others.

I do not want to dwell on positional abandonment, for it scares the daylights out of me. But maybe God’s abandonment of some is His justice and blessing for others. What do I mean by that? Imagine a heaven in which everyone equally is destined to the same eternity. The murderers, the thieves, the evil dictators, the Hitler’s and Stalin’s, the child molesters, not to mention everyone who has ever rejected Christ, are all seated with you and me in heaven. If anything would seem unjust of God, perhaps it would be that. If that were the case, it might then even beg the question of why someone should even bother being a Christian at all. To make matters worse, the way I see it, such a heaven would essentially make Jesus out to be a liar when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Perhaps such a heaven would actually be more of a hell for those faithful believers who here on earth faced all sorts of atrocities by evil men, and who in eternity now have to face them all over again. Such a heaven would ultimately even have room for the devil himself. But we do not believe in such a heaven, for even the souls of the martyrs under the throne of God are depicted as crying out, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10; NIV), we too cry out for deliverance from evil.

God is love, and through Christ He gives us the choice to receive that love. However, let us not be so na├»ve as to think that God’s love means that we have license to ignore His holiness and justice by continuing in a deliberate lifestyle of depravity and rejection of His only provision for our sin, Jesus Christ.

So where do we go from here? We ask one final rhetorical question: What have we done with Jesus? Each of us alone must answer that. Peace & Blessings.

Recently I purchased yet another Casting Crowns album, “Thrive.” While I would be hard-pressed to name a song on that album that I do not like, one struck me as quite profound and is perhaps among my favorites. As I listened to the lyrics over and over again, it occurred to me that perhaps this song is the perfect conclusion to what I’ve felt God burden me to say in this post. Enjoy, and God bless.

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