The Antelope and the Penny
Come take a journey of faith with me. The trail is not long and I believe that as we walk together we will see some wonderful things along the way.
Look up ahead - there is an antelope! My wife and I had visited a park in which wild animals run free. While on a tour, our guide pointed to an antelope grazing on the grass and made the following statement: “That antelope is camouflaged on the green grass due to its orange color.” How could this be true (after all, orange and green are in contrast with each other)? But our guide also made another statement: “The lion sees basically in shades of gray.” He told us that if we took a photograph of the antelope and printed it in black and white, the antelope would virtually disappear against its background.
Now look on the ground - there is a penny! Pick up the penny and hold it in front of you. Look at the heads side. Are you able to see the tails side while you look at the heads? Now, turn it over and look at the tails side. Can you see the heads side as you are looking at the tails? You may examine one side in detail, and you may turn the penny over and examine the other side in detail, but with your natural vision you do not have the ability to see or focus upon both sides at once. In addition, although heads and tails are opposites, each co-exists without conflict within the same object.
You might ask at this point, “Where in the world are we going with these two examples?” The answer is that we are not going anywhere in this world. Remember that I said that this is a journey of faith. Are you curious to see where this trail goes? I hope so!
Let’s look at the following two verses:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of
the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in
love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children
by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
For centuries, there has been much disagreement (even to the point of bloodshed) associated with two of the words within these verses. The words are “chosen” and “predestinated”. The word “chosen” in these verses has to do with God choosing people long before they even existed. The word “predestinated” is a form of the word “predestination” which can be understood by breaking the word up into its two pieces, defining each one of them, and then joining them back together again. “Pre” means “before”. A “destination” is a place at the end of a journey. “Predestination” means to determine ahead of time where a journey will end. When the term is used in the Bible, it pertains to God determining ahead of time where people will end up (spiritually speaking). The reason for the sharp disagreement is that there are also verses that teach that man is responsible for making a choice that will determine what his spiritual destination will be.
Let’s look at one of these verses:
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth
say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will,
let him take the water of life freely.
God reveals two things to me in the phrase “whosoever will”: First, he tells me that this offer is open to everyone. Let us not wrest the scriptures; “whosoever” simply means what it says. “Whosoever” includes everyone. This is the way that God uses this word throughout the Bible. Secondly, this invitation of the Spirit and the bride involves the will of the person. Man’s will can never cleanse him from his sin. Only God has the power to do that, and only the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross provides that power. But God has given man the ability to accept or reject his offer of salvation. Let us accept God’s words as he wrote them: the “will” in “whosoever will” is the will of the “whosoever”. God is not speaking of his own will in this passage.
God also plainly teaches that it is not his will that any perish:
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in
the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and
live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O
house of Israel?
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count
slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any
should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
II Peter 3:9
God desires that the wicked turn and live. “Any” means “any” and “all” means “all”. A person must work hard to try to deny these truths. It is clearly God’s will that none perish, but we know that many will perish. How do we reconcile this with God’s sovereignty? My friend, I may want with all of my heart for you to love me, and I may do everything in my power to prove to you that I love you, but I cannot force you to love me. If I try to do so, the result will be just the opposite of what I wish. It is God’s will that all respond to his love by loving him, but he does not force his love upon anyone. This does not make God any less sovereign than he is. God himself has ordained that love be so.
For centuries, battle lines have been drawn over these two seemingly irreconcilable differences. Each camp has had its share of skilful warriors and each camp has used God’s word in an attempt to defend its position and defeat its enemies. There has been bitter strife in this battle. I do not believe that this bitterness and strife is of God.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not,
and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from
above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and
strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
I thank God that there is another kind of wisdom (one that is not earthly but which comes from above; one that does not result in confusion and evil works but which results in peace). Let us continue to walk through the following verses of this same passage:
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable,
gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits,
without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of
righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
As strange as it may seem, I am convinced that this great battle of many centuries can be resolved easily if it is approached by faith. The end of this battle is peace. This is the peace that is “sown in peace of them that make peace”. Continue down this path of faith with me and I think that you will see what I mean.
An orange antelope against a green background is easily seen isn’t it? Well, I have learned that it all depends upon whose eyes you are looking through.
When I look at the head of a penny, I cannot see the tail, but is not the tail still there, and is it not just as essential a part of the penny as the head? In fact, they depend upon each other for their very existence – without the tail there could be no head, and without the head there could be no tail. These opposites exist together in complete harmony.
The apparent contradiction of the antelope color was resolved by understanding that my sight is not always the same as the sight of another.
The penny dilemma was resolved by understanding that apparent opposites can exist in harmony even though my eyes cannot see them together in harmony.
Is it God who chooses that I be saved or do I? I believe that the answer is “both”. My understanding is limited, while God’s is not. God sees differently than I do and God can harmonize opposites very easily. I do not have to understand how he does so. Who am I to question anything that God has plainly said?
Over a century ago a preacher named Charles Spurgeon attempted to help someone who was struggling to understand this issue. Let us see what he had to say:
“I cannot understand it,” says one. My dear friend, I am compelled to
say the same—I do not understand it either….Certain of my brethren
deny free agency [the belief that God has given man the ability to
make his own choice regarding God’s gift of salvation], and so get out
of the difficulty; others assert that there is no predestination, and so cut
the knot. As I do not wish to get out of the difficulty, and have no wish
to shut my eyes to any part of the truth, I believe both predestination
and free agency to be facts. How they can be made to agree I do not
know, or care to know; I am satisfied to know anything which God
chooses to reveal to me, and equally content not to know what he does
not reveal. …Believe these two truths and you will see them in
practical agreement in daily life, though you will not be able to devise a
theory for harmonizing them on paper.”
“Believe these two truths”: that, I am convinced, is the key. In order to do so, we must have the faith of a little child. It is only after we are willing to simply trust that all that he says is true that he will reveal things to us that we could not otherwise know.
We are almost at the end of our trail. I am honored that you have walked this far with me, and I would like for us to pause one last time at the verse just up ahead. I believe that, in a sense, God allows us to “look through his eyes” and “see both sides of the penny at once” within this verse.
But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren
beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning
chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and
belief of the truth:
II Thessalonians 2:13
Do you see how both truths are here at once?
God’s part: choosing us
Our part: belief of the truth
And do you see how they do not conflict with each other, but rather work together? Do you see that we do not have to believe one to the exclusion of the other, but can believe both at once?
My friend, we are at the end of this trail of faith, and as I think back on what we have seen, I find myself wonderfully at peace. My prayer is that God has given you this same peace as we have walked together. There are so many great trails to explore - may God choose for us to walk more trails of faith side by side.
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