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Brain Dead
by David Block
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If I were to ask you to name a few sins off the top of you head what would you say? If you are like most people you would say things like murder, adultery, idolatry, etc. All of these are grievous sins but they are all active or external sins. Most things that we consider to be sin are committed where other people might see. We rarely think of, or realize, that incorrect reasoning is just as much a sin as murder. However, Jesus made the point clear that you can sin just as easily with your mind as you can with your actions, "Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment... everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery" (Matthew 5:22,28).

We cannot deny the fact that the mind is just as capable of creating evil as the members of our bodies, if not more so. Hopefully, you also agree with the fact that anything that is antithetical to the teachings of the Bible is sin. Therefore, if we use our minds (reason) and come up with a new teaching, practice, or system of theology that denies a part of Scripture then that would be a sin. Paul calls this kind of reason natural or carnal. The person using reason of the natural man cannot understand or discern the ways, actions or the plan of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). Natural reason will either deny or try to change these things.
Consider the following example. Starting in Romans 9:15-16 we read, "'I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.' So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy," and in verse 18, "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills." What does natural reason say to this idea that salvation is determined by God alone? What does natural reason say to the idea that God hardens people's hearts so that they can't believe in him? "You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'" (Romans 9:19). Human reasoning thinks that it's not fair for God to be the one that chooses whom he has mercy on and whom he leaves to justice. Man then comes to the conclusion that if in fact God determines salvation, we shouldn't be held responsible for our sins. It just doesn't seem fair.

Paul answers all of these questions in the next verse of Romans, but we'll come back to that. First, let us examine his illustration. For his rebuttal, Paul uses the Potter and clay analogy found in Romans 9:20-23. This analogy is fairly simple to understand. We as humans are like clay while God is like the potter. The potter takes a lump of formless clay and molds it into whatever form that he wishes. He might choose to make a beautiful cup or vase out of one lump while with another he might fashion a bedpan. This is liken unto God forming one person into a being that receives mercy and glorification while another he molds into a being that receives justice. Now, do we ever hear the clay say to the potter, "Hey! You know what? I really don't feel like catching human excrement. If you could just make me into a nice planter I would be just delighted." No, the idea of that is ridiculous. The artist's medium never has any right over the artist. Even in a world as messed up as ours, we don't have clay activists chaining themselves to pails of dirt demanding that the rights of clay be respected. "Maybe the clay doesn't want to be formed into an ash tray by a seventh grade wannabe artist that was attempting to make a cup." No, we naturally assume that a potter, painter or photographer has the power and right to do just what he pleases.

What gives even more weight to Paul's analogy is that it isn't really his. He borrowed it. If you take a look at Jeremiah chapter 18, you will read the same analogy of God being the potter and the nation of Israel as the clay. The main difference between the two is that in this instance God uses the analogy himself. He says, "Can I not do with you as this potter has done?" (Jeremiah 18:5). This is basically the same question that Paul poses.

Nevertheless, natural reason likes to take shots at the validity of Paul's (God's) analogy. They dismiss the idea that mankind could be compared to a lump because a lump is an inanimate object. Clay isn't self conscience or have a will. Clay can't talk or demand things from the potter, but humans most definitely can. Therefore, they conclude, that this analogy is a misrepresentation because it destroys the individual's rights and dismisses our "humanness". What natural reasoning fails to see is that if you attack the analogy on the grounds that humans are not like clay then you must also attack the idea that God is like the potter. Though we are not inanimate objects, humans do hold several (or for some, many) qualities that are similar to a lump of clay. Yet, God and a human potter share even fewer commonalities. To compare God to a human potter is so much more condescending to God than it is to compare mankind to clay. Humans and clay are finite created things but God is infinite, Almighty, and created the very thing he is being compared to. As you can see, attacking the analogy displays again the main point of the analogy; there is a huge gap between mankind and God. God's ways are higher than our ways and our understanding only comes from what He has revealed to us.

Going back now to the original question of, "Why does God still find fault?" we find that Paul answers not only with the analogy above but with a question of his own. "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (Romans 9:20). This statement echoes that of God's question to Job when he says, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me," (Job 38:2,3). God follows his demand to Job with a plethora of questions concerning creation and his control of the universe. Job answers back saying,

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not
understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 'Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.' I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes," (Job 42:2-6).

Job admits that he had been using natural reason in his previous statements. Perhaps he thought that he needed a detailed plan or at least 24 hour prior notice before all of the calamities struck him. However, after God blasted his knowledge to smithereens, Job was able to discern the answer he was looking for through biblical spiritual reasoning.

What was the answer that Job found? What is the answer to the question, "Why does God still find fault?" The answer is simple and yet complex. The answer is God. Natural reason does not find this to be an answer, but if you ask any Christian who uses biblical reason they will answer that it is an answer. It is the answer above all answers and the one that makes us come before him in joy with fear and trembling. Why is there fault found in people though God has complete control over all things? Because He is God. There is no quibbling with him or telling him what to do. That is not even a possibility. Are His ways unjust or evil? No. Does God contradict himself? No, so when Paul answers that He is God then we must assume that whatever God does in finding fault in people is right even though we don't understand. Do we understand the Trinity? I sure don't, but yet I believe it. This is what we call faith. We don't need to change the meaning of the text or water it down just because we don't understand. We are not called to fully understand but to believe. Again, that is what is called faith.

To sum all of this up, natural reason is sinful. When we use the reasoning of the natural man we will always miss the point of Scripture. Many people have come close to understanding who God is and what his ways are, apart from actually knowing Him. But they are now awaiting final judgment and eternal separation from Him because they tried to use only their reason. Reason apart from God will ultimately fail. As Christians, we need to leave behind the reason of the natural man and embrace the reason of the spiritual man. If we are truly reborn, then we need to lay aside the thought patterns and the arguments of the world and embrace the Bible for what it is. We need to study it and use our God instilled reason to comprehend it, but not read into it things that are not there through our carnal reasoning. For the things that we cannot understand or that the Bible gives us an answer that we do not like, i.e. God has mercy on whom he has mercy, then we must accept that answer as truth. We must capitulate to the Almighty and say," But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand," (Isaiah 64:8). When we do this then and only then will we understand.

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