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by Jacob Ninan
While the Bible reveals the character of God to those who sincerely want to know Him, it is still possible to misunderstand Him if we read and interpret the words of the Bible wrongly. It is well known that in spite of the abundant availability of Bibles and also many scholars who can read and interpret from the original languages in which it was written, there is much disagreement and confusion among Christians. There are differing ideas about what kind of a person God is, what He does, how He deals with people and situations, and what He is planning to do.
One reason is that the Bible was not written in a text book style, dealing with each subject in a systematic order. It requires us to read through all the 66 books which present such a great variety among them and to extract truths from all of them, here a little and there a little.
Another reason is that when we go as individuals to the Bible, we would be taking along with us our background, personality, and experiences that may colour our understanding. We need to try and put aside such personal biases and go to God’s word with an open and teachable mind.
Yet another reason why we can make mistakes is that the Bible, which was written by human authors who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to bring out spiritual truths, needs revelation from the same Holy Spirit for us to get proper understanding. Our natural abilities are not sufficient by themselves. If we lean upon our human skills, when we try to interpret God’s ways, we may go far from Him and not even realise that.
As a result of such practical challenges which we face, what we observe is that there are many teachings around us that distort the character of God in some way or the other. One tragedy is that some of these distortions take place when people try to exalt one or more of the characteristics of God! When they try to glorify God by making a big ‘hype’ about some attribute of His, sometimes they exaggerate it at the cost of some other attribute. In other words, such teachings make some character of God out of proportion with respect to the rest of God’s nature. Shall we refer to such cases as hyper theology?
Hyper ControlOne truth we see in the Bible is that God, as the creator of everything, is in complete control of everything. He has created all visible and invisible things and also the laws under which they operate. He sets limits to what can happen (Jer.5:22), and He intervenes whenever He considers it necessary to accomplish His will (Gen.6:5-7). He is almighty (omnipotent) in the sense that He can do whatever He chooses to do (Psa.115:3). While we say that God is almighty, we also know that God cannot do anything that is against His nature – for example, He cannot tell a lie, go back on His word, do any evil, etc. Another aspect of this truth about God is that He is totally sovereign, meaning He does not have to subject Himself to anyone else; He has the absolute authority, power and freedom to do whatever He pleases.
‘Hyper control’ theology comes in when people try to exalt God’s sovereign control to such an extent that they attribute everything that happens to His choice and responsibility, including evil. Some of them say that when He could have prevented evil from happening, and He allowed it to happen, then it was He who made it happen. I remember reading about a mother who, under the influence of drugs, drowned her small children and then, when she became sober, questioned God why He had done this to her! It is very common to hear people who made wrong choices in relationships blame God for bringing those people into their lives. These are obvious examples of a total misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty and people’s responsibility.
We need to remember that God, in His sovereign wisdom, has created angels, some of whom later became demons, and people with a certain amount of sovereignty given to both. We call this our free will with which we can choose from among many options, including obeying or disobeying God, doing good or evil, etc. Obviously, God has set limits to this free will, and it is still under the control of God who will intervene if we try to cross the limits. For example, the Bible says that even though God will permit His people to make mistakes, He will intervene if we are going to make very drastic mistakes (Psa.37:23,24). (Of course, we still have the freedom to resist Him and get hurt!)
From the time of Adam, people have been misusing this freedom, and we all have suffered and we have also caused suffering to others. In an attempt to honour God by exalting His sovereignty, if we place on Him the responsibility for the evil around us, we are forgetting about man’s own responsibility.
Once this concept is clear, we are in a position to understand that different parts of the Bible have to be looked at without contradiction to these facts about God’s sovereignty and man’s free will which exist simultaneously. For example, when Amos 3:6 says, “If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city, has not the Lord done it?” we must know that this is a poetic expression which means that nothing happens without God’s knowledge, and that this cannot be taken literally to imply that God does evil. If we take the verse literally, it will contradict the goodness, love, mercy and compassion of God.
Hyper PredestinationConnected with God’s omnipotence, sovereignty and omniscience (knowing everything) is the concept of predestination. In simple words, it means that God has decided in advance that certain things would happen. It follows from this that whatever God has planned has to happen because no one can stand against Him or defy His plans. Perhaps the best example for this is how God planned for His Son to die for our sins even before the foundation of this earth (Eph.1:3-5), and how He made that happen according to His plan (Acts 4:27,28). The Book of Revelation tells us what He is planning to do about the end of this world, the judgment and the time that will follow. He will do these things one by one and at the right time.
The mistake is to exaggerate predestination so as to assume that everything that happens has taken place according to the predetermined will of God. This happens because people do not take into consideration the fact that God has made some of His plans subject to man’s responses. He could have, if He wished, accomplished whatever He wanted, irrespective of people or any circumstance. But that would take away the free will which He has granted to people and will not fit into the overall scheme of things.
As an example, consider Romans 12:29,30, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” This tells us that it is God’s plan that everyone whom He justifies should become like His Son Jesus. We can easily see that this is not happening! Some people also misinterpret it to mean as if God has already decided in the first place who should be made His children. This is hyper-predestination. Any reasonable person can understand that, while this passage indicates God’s desire and plan, things do not always work out as God desires since they are also subject to man’s choices. If we are honest, we can also see many examples in the Bible where things have not entirely gone according to God’s original plans.
Of course, God is still sovereign, and since He keeps overall control of everything, things still happen according to His overall plans.
Hyper BlessingThere is no limit on God’s desire to bless His people. He has promised that if we sought His kingdom and His righteousness first in our lives, He would provide us everything we needed (Matt.6:33). Under the new covenant of grace, God has given us the blessing that was originally given to Abraham that we can be a blessing to people around us (Gal.3:13,14;Gen.12:3). Temporal blessings that pertain to life on earth are very useful for us and they make us happy. But they are called temporal because they pass away and they are really not relevant to the life in eternity. God’s ultimate goal for us is to give us blessings that will last for eternity. These are spiritual blessings such as the fruit of the Holy Spirit that make us like His Son Jesus Christ (Eph.1:3:Rom.8:29).
It is also clear from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles that we are not going to be able to avoid pain, suffering and trouble in this life on earth. However, many preachers present a message that invites people to come to Jesus, not to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but to receive blessings! I once asked a group of Christian workers what they told people about why they should come to Christ. The answer was, shockingly, “To receive blessings!” And when they have come into the church, the messages are mostly about how they can receive different blessings—of health, wealth, material prosperity, etc. The Gospel has been turned into another gospel—of hyper blessing. It’s all about blessings.
People focus on the promises of God related to material blessings, taken especially from the Old Testament. Books are printed listing promises, and calendars display promises for each day. There is hardly any mention of commandments to be obeyed, conditions attached to promises, getting rid of sin of every form from our lives, etc. It’s a distortion.
Hyper GraceBecause of our sinful nature which we are all born with, our natural tendency is to avoid taking any responsibility for our sins but to try and pass them on to others or to justify ourselves in different situations. When God came with the new covenant of grace under which God will accept us freely without waiting for any merit on our part, it has a special appeal for us! Very few preachers nowadays tell us that to receive this grace we need to go to God with repentance over our sins and a cry for forgiveness. What is commonly preached implies that all we need to do is to ‘accept Jesus’ and then we will have a problem-free life afterwards!
Jesus did heal many sick people when He was on earth, and He even raised people from the dead. But He did that because of the compassion of His heart and as a sign showing who He was so that people could get to know Him. He does that even now occasionally. But the main reason why He came to this earth was to save us from our sins (Matt.1:21), and if we want to be saved, we need to acknowledge that we are sinners who need a Saviour. That is not the same as ‘accepting’ Jesus.
As a result of this preaching of hyper grace, many have come into the delusion of thinking that they are right with God while the truth is quite different.
This hyper grace corrupts even further. People who come to Christ are taught that, since God has accepted them now by grace, they only have to keep asserting to themselves who they are in Christ and how God looks at them through Christ. As a result, many do not look at their personal sin seriously (for which Jesus had to die), thinking that it has already been taken care of. They are taught that, if they fall into sin, they do not have to confess that to God and get right with God again, because God has already forgiven all their sins, including future sins!
A man who is truly born again begins to exhibit certain characteristics of His Father as he grows up. This is seen in the things he does and how he lives his life—in other words, in his works, the works that result from his faith. The apostle James is very clear that if someone’s faith does not produce works that conform to a life with God, that faith is a counterfeit. “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself… You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected” (Jas.2:17,22).
But hyper grace sees ‘works’ as a worse enemy than sin! According to them, any mention of works implies that one is going back under the Law. But we must make a distinction between the works people do in order to find acceptance before God and the works that come from faith and follow a changed heart. Many people are living in an imaginary world where everything is perfect ‘in Christ’ while not being honest enough to look at what is going on in their actual lives.
Hyper InspirationMuch of the hyper theology we have looked at above comes from assuming a doctrine of hyper inspiration of the Bible. The Bible itself claims that all of it was inspired by God (2Tim.3:16,17). But in seeking to magnify the value and greatness of the Bible, many scholars have attributed to the Bible a character that God did not intend it to have. They teach, in general, that every word in the original manuscript (autograph) was exactly what God wanted it to be. In looking at the mechanism of how God carried out this inspiration with the human authors, on one side they deny that God dictated His words to the authors who just wrote them down, and on the other side they claim that God supervised what the authors were writing in a sovereign manner that finally they wrote exactly what He wanted! Both these are actually equivalent, aren’t they?
In addition, the scholars themselves add various caveats to these claims which ordinary Christians do not get to know. What most evangelical Christians hold as a doctrine of inspiration is that the Bible is in its entirety the very words of God, infallible and inerrant. As a result, people take different sentences from the Bible literally and out of context, believing them to be words of God. Some people wrongly apply such ideas in their lives, and some preach wrong doctrines based on such a misconceived form of interpretation.
What we need to know is that while the Bible is the word of God, it was written by human beings (who were inspired by the Holy Spirit). This can be easily seen from the use of different styles of writing, vocabulary and even grammatical usage. When the infinitely perfect God worked on this project with imperfect people—imperfect in knowledge, intelligence, skills, spiritual maturity, etc.—He had to make allowance for their imperfection and how it would affect His final product. He could have avoided an imperfect product only if He had done everything Himself, or if He had forced the human authors to do just what He wanted. But He did neither, and He worked with the authors in such a way that while their personalities and individual skills would affect the product, what He wanted to convey to people would come through, even though with some difficulty in some places.
As a result, we have a collection of different books in the Bible that make it necessary for us to read all of them to get a full understanding of what God is saying, putting together, as in a jigsaw puzzle, truths from here and there. Teaching super inspiration has resulted in much harm.
ConclusionAs people of God, let us be careful how we live, how we interpret the Bible and how we form doctrines to teach others. Let us not allow ourselves to get excited by some truth we learn, without looking at the whole picture and finding the right place for this truth within that picture.
-- Published in the Light of Life magazine, July 2016
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