Can we choose how we live, or is our whole live fate?

Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Romans 9:13-16

Based on these verses some Christians believe in predestination. God decides all our live. God loves us or hates us. We can’t change that. If God wants us to become Christians, we will become it. Or God wants us to be atheists. In this way Esau had no chance. His misfortune was already decided before his birth. Paul says that that is God’s righteousness.

For me this sounds too fatalistic. Such a bad life if you can’t influence your fate. I think that psychologists who say that such a theology can make people depressed are right.

First of all I want to say now that you can’t know if someone is called by God. Some people don’t care about religion almost all their live, but at the end shortly before they die they convert. You don’t know earlier what will happen. But also the opposite happens. Some people grow up in a Christian environment but later they lose their faith. And what about ourselves? Do we know about ourselves if God hates us or loves us? We don’t know how our live will end. We have to give people chances. Maybe God loves them.

Personally I think at another verse where Jesus himself says: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14. All these people who are invited, doesn’t God love them? I think He does! They belong to Jacob’s group. God does give them a choice! But not everyone answers God’s invitation. Only a few people do answer. Isn’t that their own action? Isn’t that a choice they have to make for themselves? Or do I see it wrong? I think we do can choose our future.

What is the connection between what Jesus says here and what Paul writes? Didn’t God know that only a few would answer his invitation? Why than does he invite many? Why does God not only invite people who will be chosen?

Personally, the idea that I can influence my live makes me happy. It is a positive theology. God invited me and I answered. I experience that as my own choice. Just like Joshua gave the Israelites a choice: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24: 15

When I was younger I learned that mankind is created with an own free will and that God respects this free will. Of all the people who are invited, some of them choose with their own free will to answer that invitation. They choose to be obedient to their calling. They choose to live a Christian live, based on their calling. That’s why they will be chosen. We can’t choose if we belong to that large group of people who are invited. It is God who invites or not. That is true in the theology of predestination. But after that invitation it is our responsibility if we will be chosen. And that gives some control over our live. And it stimulates us to choose each day to do what is right and good.

Jeremiah and the potter

Jeremiah 18:2: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”

To go down means to humble yourself. God wants to speak to us, but as humans we are often too proud to listen to His voice. He can only speak to us when we are humble. And God has a lot to tell us. Once a Christian leader said: God speaks to me all the time. Can He do that to us too? He wants to reveal us His word and His will. He wants to show us what is the best way to live. He has wonderful things to say to us. God wants to make us happy. We will be more and more happy when we listen to his words.

This verse means also something else to me. When we are proud we sit on the top of our mountain. When our brothers and sisters also sit on the top of their mountain, then we are far away from each other. Then it is not possible to have fellowship. But if we come down from our mountain and we come in the valley, then we see that the mountains touch each other. There, down in the valley, they meet each other, and there we will have fellowship.

Let us be humble in our life, then God will certainly bless us.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

“Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” Genesis 18:34-14.

In Abraham’s and Sarah’s time nothing was too hard for the Lord. In Dutch it says: “Would anything be to miraculous for the Lord?” God promised Abraham a son, but he had to wait a very long time for it. When Isaac was born he was already 100 years old. Sarah’s age is not mentioned in Genesis, but it says that she was very old and that she was past the age of childbearing (Genesis 18:11). She was no longer fertile. But the miracle did happen and she became a mother.

And how is it in our era? Is today anything too miraculous for the Lord? It says in James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Indeed, God still is a God of miracles.  He wants to do miracles in your and my life. He wants to make us fertile, in spite that we are humans. In our own power we can do so little, but king David writes in Psalm 18:29: “with my God I can scale a wall.” He had no fear of failure!

And isn’t the greatest miracle not the transformation that God can let us undergo? That we human beings can become totally good. We can live here on earth a holy life, just like Jesus did it. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. We are called to live the same life as Jesus Himself! He is our leader, He shows us the way. He opened for us a new and living way (Hebrews 10:20), not that we would dream and speak about it, but that we would walk each day on that way.

World peace, do not all of us long for it?

Mother Theresa won many prizes and was once awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Once a man asked her how he could bring more peace in the world. She answered him: “Go home and take care of your family. Be friendly to them and bring peace into your home.”

Many people long for world peace. They dream of great things, great goals in the world. But everything starts at home. We must start small. It’s only when we are able to bring more peace into our own family that maybe one day we can bring peace into the team in which we work and into the company. Maybe one day we can do something for the greater society. But we must start at home and stop dreaming of great works.

The Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh goes one step further and asks the question how we can bring peace in our family around us. He says that first of all we have to find inner peace inside ourselves. We have to live in peace with ourselves. That is something we can reach by meditating regularly. When we have reached that inner peace we will also radiate it to the people around us. And that goes always further, just like when you throw a stone in the water. It makes circles that expand always further away. In that way we can bring change in the world.

Women’s rights, also in your church?

Last year I attended a divine service which was led by a young woman. She did it so good! She was modest and creative and brought a fresh wind in the church. A wind of renewal. Because it was the first time in that church that a service was led by a woman. Why does it not happen more and even everywhere? In some churches they are used to do it, but in Belgium that is the minority.

In connection with the position of the woman in the church, many Christians refer to a bible verse written by Paul: Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.” 1 Corinthians 14:34. We can see that Israel in the time of the old and new testament was a patriarchal society. Men decided everything. They were important, the women were oppressed. We can also see in the genealogies in the bible that women were most times even not mentioned. And Paulus continued that system. He lived and preached like it was used in his era. What he said was based on the Jewish culture of his time.

But when this bible verse is mentioned, some people mention another expression of that same Paul: “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.” 1 Corinthians 11:5. The first conclusion is that a woman has to cover her head in the church. But another conclusion is also possible. If it is a shame for a woman to pray or prophesy with her head uncovered, it is maybe not a shame if she prays or prophesies with her head covered. And what is to prophesy? “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” 1 Corinthians 14:3. Than a woman is maybe allowed by Paul to do that if she covers her head. Not everyone has thought about that conclusion.

But why follow so strictly what Paul wrote to the Corinthians? Some people call that the Word of God, and that should be unchangeable in eternity. Personally I see it more as something that has to do with culture like I previously wrote. And cultures do change. We do live in a whole different country and culture and era than Paul.

Also in our country women where oppressed for thousands of years. Also here they came only at the second place. Fortunately that started to change during the previous century. Since emancipation started, women begin to have the same position as men, and I think that that is really necessary. But a lot of work still has to be done, that no women will deny. And mostly in the Christian churches much progression has to be made.

I will be very happy when one day women in the church will be equal to men. I long to see that they will lead services and preach. Women have a lot to offer, as much as men do. We need them. Without women the church is biased and poor. With the input of women we will have a healthy and well balanced church.

How authentic is our Christian life?

I studied two years psychotherapy based on the ideas of the American psychologist Carl Rogers. For him, authenticity was one of the important characteristics of mental health. Authenticity means that the outside is the same as the inside. Just like I feel and think, I behave and speak. It is a quality which I like a lot.

Can we apply the same idea on our Christian life?

Jesus reproached the Pharisees and scribes that they were whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. The outside looked fine and glittered in the sun, but the inside, o woe. He reproached them also that they cleansed the outside of the cup but that the inside was full of extortion and self-indulgence. Apparently they were totally not authentic. There was a great difference between the inside and the outside. The outside was brushed up and was meant to be beautiful in the eyes of other people, but the inside was unclean. Jesus often warned people against their hypocrisy.

But it can be different. Jesus himself came with the solution: “Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:26. We shouldn’t brush the outside, but the inside. It is there the work has to be done. And then the outside will become clean automatically. Our outward behavior is a result of our inner life. It is a result of what is in our heart. If my heart is clean, then my behavior will also become clean. But when I try to appear outward clean, then my heart will not become clean.

In the same way it happens in the psychotherapy which I studied. In that therapy the therapist works with the thoughts and feelings of people. If they develop and improve, then later the behavior will also improve.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23. Our heart is the source of our life. Let us cleanse our heart en keep it clean all our life. Let us stay in contact with God, and let us pray Him that He will show us what lives in our heart, and what is still hidden in our heart. Let us cleanse our heart more and more from all sin that is maybe hidden inside it, so our heart will become pure as gold.

Does this mean that the outside isn’t important? No, the outside can sometimes show us a little bit of the inside. The outside can sometimes be like a thermometer for the temperature inside. Or like Jesus said it in Matthew 7:16-18: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”

What is important for me is written in 1 Samuel 16:7: “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Let us live to satisfy God, and not people. Because at the end of our lifes, it will be God who will reward us.