Destroying the Straw Man…

Surely the God of yesteryear is not the God of today!

No…I would not agree.

The God of yesteryear is the God of today.

J.I. Packer* sets up a logical strategy called the straw man fallacy.  He begins Chapter 7 arguing that our God of the Middle-Eastern world is a God who functioned only in that context; surely He does not operate the same way outside of the Middle-East.  Surely God’s commandments need to be relaxed because look how life has changed so much today; as a society we are accepting of things that twenty years ago we would have condemned.   Surely God’s life has changed, His character has changed and His truth has changed.

No… no… no… to all three…

Now we come to God’s ways.   Surely the way God dealt with man and woman thousands of years ago is not the way God deals with man and woman today. 

People love to make excuses about why they don’t read God’s word [Old and New Testament] but can we use the excuse that the world has changed and the God of yesteryear has ways that are not relevant today?  We can’t relate to Him anymore, so we don’t get much from His word. 

We can try, but Packer thinks this excuse is not valid.

God is the same God as the God of Bible times.  His ways have not changed.  The way He dealt with man thousands of years ago is the way He deals with man today. 

Some love to point to Genesis as proof that God’s ways are capable of change.  When God was “grieved” about man and woman’s major error in the Garden of Eden, He promised to destroy man and woman but He relented.  Does that show some flexibility, some willingness to have some “wiggle room”?  Does this prove that God changes?  Also, some pinpoint the story of Jonah.   God promised to destroy Nineveh in forty days.  The Assyrians repented and God did not destroy the city.   Surely that proves that God can change and maybe since He altered His intentions about Nineveh, He can change with today’s times.  He can alter those “rules” about sin.

No, God’s ways have not changed.  We think He has because we practice anthropopathism. That’s a big word but it means that in order for man to understand God, we give God human qualities.  We should not do that because God is not like us.  He does not have human finite thought processes.  Using the Garden of Eden example, He obviously did not reverse His thinking on creating man; He planned to show Adam and Eve grace by forgiving them and promising them a Savior, one whose job it is to restore the Kingdom of God.  That restoration process would be costly because the Savior’s blood would prove to be substitutionary.  Jesus’ blood was shed for the sins of man, going back to the original sins of Adam and Eve.  God did not waffle; He is working His plan for restoration. Why can’t we see that?   God has that infinite view, not man’s short-term view.  God is not changing.  He never intended to destroy man after the original sins of Adam and Eve.

In regards to Nineveh, there is no evidence that God changed His ways in dealing with the Assyrians.  He told them to repent and they did.  “If that nation I warned repents…then I will relent.”  From their king on down, the Ninevites all put on sackcloth; they repented.   They all heeded God’s warning and changed.  That’s what God wants from us today.  He wants us to change and He will reward that.

This is not evidence that His ways have changed.

Today, He continues to act toward sinful men and women in the way that He did in the Bible.  Instead of making it harder to understand our Lord, this should make it easier.  He’s consistent.

Packer agrees that our excuses about not reading His word based on the need for Him to change His ways are not valid.  “He shows His freedom and lordship by discriminating between sinners, causing some to hear the Gospel while others do not hear it, and moving some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief, thus teaching His saints that He owes mercy to none and that it is entirely of His grace, not at all through their own effort, that they themselves have found life” [Packer, 79].

Packer argues that this is not new.   God has always operated like this.  God hates the sins of His people and uses all kinds of “inward and outward pains and griefs” to capture their hearts from this world where compromise and disobedience rule.  He wants His love to cause us to detach from the things of this world and attach to Him.

Adam and Eve were not a lost cause for God.  The people of Nineveh were not a lost cause.  God was in the business of change in those situations; He still is.  Today it is our change that He is interested in, He is not interested in changing His ways for us.  Does our change of heart mean that God changes?  Of course not. If anything, our own salvation points to the fact that God has never changed. 

We are not a lost cause.  I believe this about Him and I don’t believe I am practicing anthropopathism.  His Word is full of love for us.  Read the Bible and discover that.

Packer’s argument in Chapter 7 that there are valid reasons for not reading God’s word due to us not understanding God’s behavior in Middle-Eastern Bible times is not valid.  He makes the argument and then destroys it; it was never really his actual view.  That’s the way the straw man strategy works. We can understand God and His word because God’s life has not changed, His character has not changed and His truth has not changed.

Now we can add to the list: God’s ways have not changed.

*from his book Knowing God

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