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Answers to your questions about life, religion and the Bible

Pastors get some of the most interesting questions from people they meet and people in their congregations. Here are some questions that I have received during my years of ministry and via email for this column.

Dear Father Paul: Some time ago I moved from Georgia to a Midwestern state. The recession has had a severe impact on my earnings and I now find that I am making about half of what I made in Georgia. The result ... major lifestyle changes for me. I wish and pray so hard for better finances so that I can once-in-a-while go on a vacation, eat out, have a nicer car and think about retirement. I know the Bible says not to covet. Am I guilty of the sin of coveting by feeling as I do? — Paul

Dear Paul: No you are not. The Bible admonition you mention is one of the Ten Commandments ... number ten to be exact. It reads ...”You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:17.

The key to the difference between being guilty of the sin of covetousness and simply desiring a better job, nicer car or bigger 401K is found in the very last part of this verse.” ... or anything (else) that belongs to your neighbor.”

Covet, as used here, is the English word translated from the Hebrew word “chamad,” in the original text, which means an unnatural desire for or lust for something to which you are not entitled, something that rightfully belongs to someone else, The things you mention are perfectly healthy things for all of us to seek and, as long as we gain them honestly, God is pleased for us to have them. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord (not an easy task), and he will give you the desires of your heart.” May I suggest that in everything you do and in every waking moment you “delight yourself in the Lord” and then watch him bless you.

Dear Father Paul: Do you believe that God predestines each of us to either salvation or damnation? What is your opinion of the principle of predestination? — Jeremy.

Dear Jeremy: You have asked a very good, but very difficult question ... one that has challenged theologians for centuries, one to which I cannot possibly do justice in this small space.

Essentially, the doctrine of predestination says that since God is omniscient (all knowing) he must already “know” who will be saved and who will be damned. Thus human “free will” to decide whether or not to love and follow God does not really exist ... and our eternal home (heaven or hell) is already predestined. In other words, our eternal destiny is already “set” and there is nothing we can do to change it.

Two men from different streams of Christianity, Protestant reformer John Calvin and Roman Catholic theologian St. Augustine of Hippo both taught this doctrine. Other, equally godly people, do not accept predestination. Predestination is not an essential doctrine of the church.

Most proponents of predestination use a Bible passage from Romans 9:10-33 which I would strongly urge you to read and which, because of space limits, I cannot reprint here. In this passage the Apostle Paul talks about God’s “power” to know all things and to do as he wills. This is where the proponents of predestination get much of this teaching. In my view, they ignore completely another of God’s attributes, his “mercy” which is also mentioned later in the same passage. Basically, they emphasize only one of God’s attributes ... his power. But God has many other attributes ... his love, his justice, his goodness and yes, his mercy and compassion to name just a few. God is all of these things, Jeremy, not just one of them

Yes, God is all knowing and he has the power to do anything, but I believe he has chosen to limit himself in this one area in order to lovingly give humans the great gift of absolute “free will.” Basically, I believe that he has chosen not to “know” what we will choose. In his mercy, compassion, love and justice he has chosen to limit himself. Limiting himself is nothing new to God. He limited himself when he left heaven and became a man just like us. His name was Jesus. God’s ability to limit himself is a blessed mystery that I’m not sure we can ever fully understand. This is where faith comes in.

Do you have a question? I will try to answer your question in the paper. Email me at or write me at P.O. Box 510 Fayetteville, Georgia 30214 or call me at (678) 457-3050.

Father Paul Massey is pastor of Church of the Holy Cross Charismatic Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Georgia. Church of the Holy Cross is evangelical, charismatic and sacramental ... all three streams of the ancient, historic New Testament Church, together ... in one church. Visitors are most welcome. Information, directions and worship times are on our web site at

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muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 9:04am.

This is an unlikely venue for in-depth theological discussion, but I thought I'd toss in a couple of comments.

Father Paul wrote:

Essentially, the doctrine of predestination says that since God is omniscient (all knowing) he must already “know” who will be saved and who will be damned. Thus human “free will” to decide whether or not to love and follow God does not really exist ... and our eternal home (heaven or hell) is already predestined. In other words, our eternal destiny is already “set” and there is nothing we can do to change it.

I'm not sure this gets to the heart of the Calvinist's position. Distinguish between (1) God's actively causing Jones to come to saving faith, and (2)God's foreknowing that Jones will come to faith.

As Father Paul has it, the Calvinist affirms only the latter; not the former. But a strict Calvinist view would maintain that God actively predetermines such things. And the full doctrine of predestination is ultimately grounded not in the notion of divine omniscience but divine sovereignty. The assumption is that God's sovereignty is compromised by any view that permits other agents, such as Jones, to call the shots. As one Calvinist writer (Edwin Palmer) put it, even the minutiae of the universe, such as a typo caused by the typist's wayward pinky, are ultimately explained because God, in his sovereignty, brought them about.

I do not accept this view because (a) I see no reason for supposing that genuine human free will compromises divine sovereignty, (b) the view is incompatible with the clear biblical teaching that we are held accountable for our actions, and (c) it makes God the author of evil.

Father Paul points out the apparent problem in attempting to reconcile divine foreknowledge with human free will. Simply put, if I wind up mowing my lawn today, then it follows that God has known, from all eternity, that I would mow my lawn today. But then it appears that I have no choice but to mow the lawn since doing anything else is incompatible with God's past knowledge and belief regarding how I spend today.

Father Paul's solution is to suggest that perhaps God limits his own knowledge so that it does not stand in the way of our free acts.

Unfortunately, this does not help. For the same problem arises even if we imagine God as ignorant of the future (or, for that matter, if we imagine God not to exist at all). The crux of the matter has to do with whether there are any truths about the future to be known--regardless of whether there is some being with foreknowledge of those truths.

A standard view in the history of philosophy has it that whatever is true at all is timelessly true. Suppose that I mow the lawn today. Then the proposition Muddle mows the lawn on August 12, 2009 is true from every vantage point in time. It was true when there were dinosaurs and when Napoleon was at Waterloo, and it will be true at all times after August 12.

But if it has always been true that I mow the lawn on August 12, 2009 it seems that my fate is sealed. For to imagine my doing anything else is to imagine a contradiction: Muddle both does and does not mow the lawn--at the same time and in the same respect!

Now, if God exists and knows all truths (i.e., is omniscient), then, it follows that God knows all such timelessly true propositions. But it isn't God's knowing the propositions that does the work; it is the propositions themselves.

A recent trend among some philosophers and theologians involves denying that such propositions are timelessly true. Thus, there are no truths about future free acts, and so not even an omniscient being such as God has foreknowledge since there are no truths there to be known. This view is called Open Theism.

Another proposed solution is to challenge the suggestion that there is any incompatibility between such timeless truths and free will in the first place. I think the incompatibility is merely apparent.

After all, what makes it true that Muddle mows the lawn on August 12, 2009? I suggest that if it is true at all it is true because Muddle makes it true (on August 12) by mowing the lawn! Could I have done otherwise? Certainly. Suppose that I had chosen instead to spend August 12 banging on the drum all day. Then the proposition Muddle bangs on the drum all day on August 12, 2009 would always have been true. Since we are assuming that this is not what I do, then it follows that that is not what is true about my activities.

If God exists and is omniscient, then God surely knows whichever of the two propositions ("lawnmower" vs. "drum") is true. But if I am responsible for which one is true, and am so by freely choosing either to mow or drum, then God's knowledge is a consequence of my free actions and not a cause.

Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 1:43pm.

did you mow your lawn today? Eye-wink

muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 4:19pm.

Naw, I just banged on the drum all day.

Submitted by Bonkers on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 2:34pm.

I checked the master schedule and it was not scheduled so I don't think he did! Because if he did then it would have been checked off as preordained!

SPQR's picture
Submitted by SPQR on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 12:15pm.

Keeping it simple, the concept of a totally omniscient deity seems, to me, to be logically indefensible within the realm of human intellect.

The Wedge's picture
Submitted by The Wedge on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 1:02pm.

I must conclude that you have a very limited ability to defend the realm of human intellect. That realm has many intellectual giants who have no issue defending the concept of an omniscent deity. An atheist goes on as much faith as the most committed religious person.

Submitted by Bonkers on Wed, 08/12/2009 - 11:56am.

God schedules lawn mowings? But only after we mow them, I take it!

This situation of predestination is one of the important things that have come up over the years that makes it ignorant and stupid to argue such minute details about religion, and, who is going to hell!

If your faith convinces you that you are going to heaven for whatever reason, then you will go there.

When you mow the lawn, go to "church," pay the preacher, what kind of beer you drink (approved and scheduled, after guzzling, I assume), and millions of other rules and regulations aren't necessary as long as you KNOW you are OK.
Now if you go around blowing people away, hurting them intentionally, and robbing banks---then you will know you ain't going nowhere good!

Hypocrisy is the only sin!

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