God’s Plans and Apostasy

I met today with a friend whose beloved died in a terrible accident.  She’s a life long Christian of substantial faith and well indoctrinated with a particular way of understanding how God works in the world.  She explained that she knows God has a plan for each of us, and it must have been in God’s plan for her beloved to die on that day, but why did God have to plan for it to be such a terrible death?  The idea that God has a plan for each of us who claim the name of Jesus has a natural corollary: God’s plan for those who do not or will not claim the name of Jesus is that they are destined for hell.  It’s a way of thinking that makes it natural for one to assume that God’s plan has been executed in Haiti, or in any other massive disaster.
That is not how my tradition understands the way of God’s planning, but I have heard it articulated without the slightest doubt by life long Episcopalians.  Who knows where they picked it up, but they have it more firmly cemented in their minds than anything they ever learned in Confirmation, adult bible study or from the pulpit.  I wondered with my friend if she would consider the possibility of chance conspiring in a sequence of unpredictable events that had little to do with any plan of God’s.  That novel idea offered a glimmer of hope for her but also teetered on the edge of blasphemy.  It seemed almost a temptation to doubt the omniscience of God, and that would be apostasy, the very sin from which there is no hope of redemption.  
Where would anyone get that idea?  Out of the bible of course.  Consider the Letter to the Hebrews in the 6th chapter.  The writer plainly states that “…it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift,…if they then commit apostasy.”  It is impossible!  Not even God can do it!  Apostates are doomed and that’s all there is to it!  I enjoy studying the Letter to the Hebrews and believe there is much wisdom to be mined out of it, but I am perfectly willing to argue with its writer and demand to know how on God’s green earth he can reconcile that view with the God’s faithfulness demonstrated over and over again in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness or with the weight of the teachings of Christ as recorded in the gospels.
On the other hand, if one has been brought up to never question the bible in any way –  to never, like Job, confront God with one’s own hard questions, then it is a truly frightening prospect to enter into any territory that might possibly come too near to apostasy.  One’s eternal life is at stake.  Given the propensity of certain people to yell out charges of apostasy at the drop of a hat (or the appearance of a homosexual), a fence of fear is easily constructed around Holy Scripture that prevents the full intimacy of communion with God that I think God desires.  Oddly enough, it is that very scripture that is filled with stories of God’s people who dared to live into that intimacy, and whom we remember as heros of the faith.
Perhaps there is a conclusion to this brief essay, and maybe you could write it.  I’m going to bed.

4 thoughts on “God’s Plans and Apostasy”

  1. I have a beloved older cousin who was raised, like all the older members of my extended family, as a devout Metodist, and firmly believes that God controls everything that happens, to anyone, anywhere, and that it is \”God's Will\” that it happens, and \”Lo, it is good, if only under-stood properly\”. (Like the Deist philosophy of Leibnitz, satirized in \”Candide\” by Voltaire, after the horrible Lisbon earthquake of 1755!). As the words of the old hymn say, \”Farther along, we'll know all about it/ Farther along we'll understand why./ Cheer up, my brother, walk in the sunshine/ We'll understand it all by-and-by\”. Though she injured her leg badly a few years ago, and it is very slow to heal, and painful, she holds that fatalistic faith into her 80s. From what I have heard from many other old people, that belief in God's omnipotence (and invincible goodness) was also held by virtually all Christians in the early 20th century, even the college educated,like my old Episcopal chaplain,a graduate of Virginia seminary, who said \”I think that it is an unescapable conclusion that all history has followed God's will\”! As long as Christians still hold to the belief that God directly controls, for instance, the weather, natural disasters will present a theological problem that is insoluble except by the evasion, \”It is a mystery\”. DrB

  2. CP, In a small country NC United Methodist church I began asking a question early in my pastoral ministry. That question was in response to often quoted beliefs like the one you've described to put causality or blame back onto God. My question was simply – \”Just because something happens,does that make it's God's will (or God's doing?)?\” Fatalistic TULIP Calvinism was rampant in that community as it was in the Independent Baptist churches and camp meeting revivals of my youth. This question often opened the door to great encounters with God's grace as we struggled to understand the joy filled complexities of journeying with God. Silver bullets may have been The Lone Ranger's trademark but I hope one day people of faith will gain a better one.

  3. On apostasy: This was one of the 3 deadly (mortal) sins of the Early Christian Church, according the Henry Chadwick's book, The Early Church. (The others were murder and adultery, the latter despite the forgiveness by Jesus of the woman taken in adultery in John's Gospel). The definition then was relatively simple: denying that you were a Christian during the persecutions; again, despite Peter's denial in the gospels being forgiven! Finally the crisis came to a head around 251 AD, when a new consensus arose that bishops did have authority to forgive even mortal sins like apostasy, and the minority of stricter non-forgivers (Novatianist and Donatist) left the Catholic communion in disgust! Too much permissive liberalism! DrB

  4. Hello Country Parson,It is to my dismay that I share the following. I identify deeply with your struggle to accept that God would allow such an unchangable eternal status to occur after putting up with Israel for such much disobedience.It is every person's intuition to have some sort of hope, and to consider this unforgiveness doesn't set well with anyone. Anyone except those who face it. The spirit of repentance is a gift of God. Though it is up to us to comply and repent we would still not have that chance on daily basis if God did not allow it. This repentance opportunity can be taken away. The reason why many understandably struggle to comprehend this is because you cannot. One who has the spirit of repentance with them can never know what its like to be without it. Being without it isn't just being a sinner who doesn't want to repent. Even the worst sinner still has that opportunity offered them. This unforgiveable sin is so powerful because we are no longer Israel that God is dealing with. He sent his son to forgive us for everything we do out of our own sinful will. The challenge here is to understand what is crossing the line verses just sin. There are two kinds of nature to sin. Everyday sin is unwittingly goofing up. Defiant sin is after recieving the truth from the spirit, not just having a good idea of right and wrong, but after the spirit showing you the way, you deliberately seize up and walk in the flesh in full knowledge. It's gray I know but it is very real.So Why would God be willing to allow such a disastrous concept. If you can't accept the spirit's continual guidance and trust that Christ can pull you through anything, which he can, then what lse can god do for you.Again, all your rationalizing and analyzing will get you know where with this subject. One who loses the opporunity knows it. God won't bless them with others to understand what they are going through. Because it is no longer a fruitful struggle that will produce endurance.The gap between a believer and a non believer is much much smaller than the gap between a believer and a beleiver who cannot be renewed to repentance. It's not as these excitable pastors say, \”if you're worried about it you still care about god\”….just cuz you worry about something doesn't make you holy. The knowledge of God's reality does not leave these who have been cut off. The fact that they know what they have lost further's the pain. There are so many passionate and over excited attempts to try to master this subject by pastor's who let their ambition exceed truth. I hate these men. I apologize but they are very sick when they try to convince people things by their ambition and not the spirit of God.As i said, I am dismayed to be able to share this with you. I will let you guess why i might know these things. Just trust Him under all circumstances. Do not let your ideas exceed what is really happening. It is easy to let yourself begin to construct what you think is happening, thus making it more complicated than you were ever meant to handle. Then in that excesssive confusion you break not by god's pressure but by your lack of trust in Him and what was really your simple duty. In such moments sin comes crshing upon us cuz we need comfort for a perverted driven problem that we created out of our lack of trust in Him.Seek Him now…and forever….flow and trust and let yourself be transformed daily….not cuz your responsible for some great change….just cuz it's available to you and He loves you.I hope you get thischad

Leave a Reply