21 August 2006

"Somebody up there must like me"?

by Dan Phillips

How many times has someone told you some story of a narrow escape, a near-accident, a nearly-fatal disease, and concluded with words to this effect: "Someone up there must like me"?

Often it's given as a bit of a sop to their religious-fanatic friend (i.e. you). It's meant to say, "Yeah, I'm religious too, in my own way."

And no doubt they have a point. In fact, they have more of a point than they know. No doubt the fact that they've survived 17, 27, 87 summers does bespeak scores of divine deliverances. They're just clueless about most of them. Every single "near-miss" they noticed probably stands for scores that they didn't.

What is of interest is the interpretation they put on the event. Deliverance is interpreted as approval. If God didn't like them, He'd have let them die. He didn't, so everything must be basically A-OK between them and The Big Guy, The Man Upstairs, "Somebody"—this Agnostos Theos (Unknown God) of theirs.

And what they credit as unknown, we should proclaim to them (cf. Acts 17:23). They're right to discern deliverance; they're wrong in their interpretation of it.

My thoughts were stirred this way again by an almost offhand remark of John Owen's, in part two, chapter three, digression two of Commuion with God. Speaking of the nature of Christ's patience, long-suffering and forbearance towards sinners, he asks and answers:
What is there in that forbearance which out of Christ is revealed? Merely a not immediate punishing upon the offense, and, withal, giving and continuing temporal mercies; such things as men are prone to abuse, and may perish with their bosoms full of them to eternity.
R. K. Law updates Owen's language thus:
A sinner out of Christ thinks that because God does not at once punish sin, God will never call him to account. So he perishes full of faith in God's forbearance. [From his abridgement of Owen's Communion with God (Banner of Truth: 1991), p. 84.]
What an image: having experienced God's patience all his life, and having interpreted that as a sign of Divine favor, he dies, assuming that this forbearance will last forever. But forbearance is not approval. Forbearance is a delay, a rescheduling of the court date. It is not acquittal, it is not dismissal, it is not cancellation.

But surely I'm getting ahead of myself. Is the man right in his interpretation, or is he wrong? From what we see, we have no idea, no clue whatever. Maybe he's right. Maybe his neighbor dies, and he lives, because the latter's works were evil and his good. (So when he ultimately dies—and the odds that he will die one day are pretty impressive—will that signal God's displeasure?)

We really can't tell. We have no way to tell. We'd need God Himself to disclose the truth of the matter.

Here's where a Christian has an opportunity for a witness—assuming that his grasp of the Gospel goes beyond the Four Spiritual Laws. It could be as subtle as planting a seed of self-doubt, by asking, "How can you be sure?", or "Is there another possibility?"

The truth is, God has told us what we can't see. Hear Him:
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Romans 2:4-5)
There it is: "forebearance," anoche, holding back, a temporary respite and delay of judgment in this case. These deliverance are real, and they do signal something about God. And they are a kindness. But they do not signal approval. They signal mercy, patience, generosity—forbearance. They are a temporary delay of judgment.

Can the "lucky" man know this about himself? Certainly he can. Bring out the law of God, bring out the holiness of God. Show him how to measure himself by that standard. Tell him of the judgment and wrath of God hanging over his head even now (John 3:18, 36). Bid him to flee from that wrath, and tell him how.

But let's not leave him in the position of misunderstanding God's forbearance, and thus piling yet higher the storehouse of wrath that awaits him.

Dan Phillips's signature


DJP said...

734 words.

Henry Haney said...

Nice pithy post- not verbose at all Brother Dan! :)

This is something that has always been a bit of a pet peave of mine. 99 people die in a plane crash but the one survivor speaks of the favor of God upon his life...I do understand his thankfulness(really I do)-but it sure must make the families of the others feel pretty rotten!

So much for a concise comment on my part:

~sorry (75 words not counting stray marks or this parenthetical statement)

Neil said...

Very succinct, Dan. Did you get Turk to ghostwrite or something?

If I'm the believing favoured one that survived, then I must start quaking with terror, because Jesus said that if I receive much, then He expects much.

But wait a sec, I am favoured, and I have received much...

Steve said...

Isn't there a two-word penalty for misspellings? (I found at least one: "These deliverance are real, and they do signal something about God.")

Good to see affirmation that a person's longevity or demise is one of those things only God has the answer to, and is something we should never presume to know about.

Even So... said...

"I'm glad, and you're right, you would have been a gonner otherwise..."

"Common grace...it saved your life...amen..."

"Now I'd like to talk to you about saving grace...it will save your soul..."

Mathew Sims said...

Good thoughts. This type of thought process (i.e., God spared me I must be good...orI know someone who is suffering God must not like them) has been around forever. Think Job. Or think the man blind from birth. In the latter case, the disciples had this same mindset. "Who sinned?" was their question. Jesus' answer is "No one...not at least to cause this man to be blind. He's blind for God's glory!"

May we share the gospel faithfully with those who have this mindset.

Soli Deo Gloria

DJP said...

Steve -- Isn't there a two-word penalty for misspellings?

Er... what misspellings?

{la ta ta da de daa....}

4given said...

A sinner out of Christ thinks that because God does not at once punish sin, God will never call him to account. So he perishes full of faith in God's forbearance.

As you wrote... "tick-tick-tick, dude!"

donsands said...

Nice study. Thanks for the good words. (All 734)

Bob AuBuchon said...

Okay nice thoughts ... but tell me who does your graphics. Outstanding, excellent, good, great, cool, and most other words I might be thinking. Best graphics in the blogs I've run into.

Taliesin said...


I don't disagree, but I wonder if most people who say that really even mean it or if it is just a phrase, kind of like "God Bless" when you sneeze? It is still an opening, a chance to point to the reality of "up there" and "down there", but I suspect for many people it is a thoughtless phrase all around.

Maybe I'm just getting cynical in my old age.

FX Turk said...

First, call off the accountants, OK? If you're trying to prove you're the least-winded of TeamPyro, pecadillo is clearly the man with nothing to say.

Second, Amen. The Gospel is the call to sinners to see God's forebearance as mercy, not indulgence -- and to turn away from sin before the day of judgment comes. That's why seeker-friendly hoo-ha is so bankrupt: it assumes God will be limitlessly patient with the sinner.

Amen. Go get 'em.

FX Turk said...

Bob --

Phil is, for the most part, the genius behind the graphics at TeamPyro.

Once in a while Dan and I find our own neat graphics to spice up the presentation, but usually it's Phil all the way down.

DJP said...

Frank -- I just don't want the next Blogspotting to refer to this as a LONG post. (c;

Bob -- I can always tell when Phil has gotten around to reading one of my posts. At least one or two of my graphics are always either Pyro-standardized, improved, or (relatively rarely) replaced.

So yeah, sometimes I find something clever; but the man almost always Philitizes it. Like Owen: I found Owen, then Phil made him a Pyro fanboy.

Which I'm sure he would've been.

Chuck said...

This post really has some good balance to it. God is a gracious, longsuffering merciful God. BUT, he is also holy, vengeful, and something to be feared. If the former is not understood in its proper manner the latter will be inevitable in an individuals life. These, "somebody must like me" type of statements have proven for me to be good discussion starters for the advancement of the gospel. Don't get me wrong, not always to they lead an individual to repentance but they are at least forced to consider a different veiw of God.

Chuck said...

Sorry about the spelling...I hit the wrong button. (Fat fingers)

Bob AuBuchon said...

Ahhh, I love the "Owen" pyro fanboy! I was reading from Owen's writings last night "The Reformed Pastor" and could not help but to keep seeing the pyro fanboy image. Great graphics guys ... man I need to order a t-shirt or mug or something! And all the more on the stuff you are posting on the blog. You keep me coming back, if for nothing else, the graphics. Actually its more. Thanks.

Lee Shelton said...

Great post, Dan.

I'm reminded of one pastor who, when confronted by my father concerning serious errors in his preaching, said something to the effect that if he really was preaching error, God would have told him to quit. Talk about taking God's forebearance for granted. Unfortunately, I think that's how a great many preachers operate.

philness said...

I'm reminded of Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

danny2 said...

great post.

i used this tonight with a guy at our local fair. he told me he knew he was ok with God because He had preserved him in some rough situations.

i graciously, yet firmly tried to explain to him that he should take advantage of that grace to repent and trust Christ.

it got his attention. thanks for the biblical article.

DJP said...

Danny -- praise God, and thanks for making my day. I've wondered about a number of posts, wondered what fruit they might have borne, how readers may have adapted and found some usefulness in them. Thanks so very much for sharing this.

Bob AuBuchon said...

Okay, duh on me ... it was "Richard Baxter" I was reading "The Reformed Pastor" ... not Owen. So go ahead and make Baxter a pyro fanboy ... he sort of has that look too.

Phil Johnson said...

Bob AuBuchon: "So go ahead and make Baxter a pyro fanboy ... he sort of has that look too."


James Vander Woude said...

I really appreciated the gospel message you wrote linked to.

There are, however, a couple of typos:

"Jesus said that Hell is a place like a furnace of blazing fmales..."
(in Let's Suppose: The Bad News)


"Is that not a clear picture, as we thing of becoming yoked to Him,"
(in Beware False Hopes)

DJP said...

James -- thanks for your careful reading! I'll go fix them.

(Hm; I wonder if any readers thought "a furnace of blazing fmales" was about "females"....)