Sunday, April 18, 2010

Prayer that God does NOT answer, NORMALLY

1 Chronicles 29 is a record of part of David's prayer for Israel and for Solomon. Of particular interest among other verses is 1 Chronicles 29:19 (NIV), which reads,

"...And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, requirements and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.""

Here is a prayer of David, a "man after God's own heart", the man whom God promised that his kingdom would never end. This is very significant since we are looking up to a God who answers prayer and this is a prayer from one of His own "favorites".

There are two distinct requests in this prayer:
  1. That God would give Solomon the "wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, etc, and
  2. That God would give Solomon the "wholehearted do everything to build" the temple.
If we know Bible history well, we see that the second part of David's prayer was granted almost without any obstacles. The assignment of people and slaves, the wholehearted cooperation of and importing of cedar from King Hiram of Tyre and all other logistics in terms of the availability of goldsmiths, carpenters, engineers, and other artisans needed for the flawless construction of the temple according to specifications.

In stark contrast to the second request is the first one. We know that Solomon started well, asking the Lord for wisdom to rule God's people but was granted not only wisdom but riches in the superlative as well. We also know quite well that Solomon did not follow through towards the end of his life, he got involved and even immersed in idolatry and other things, this man who is credited with writing most of the book of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.

Our question now is, "Did God give Solomon that wholehearted devotion to obey God's commands like David requested or prayed for?" The answer, unfortunately but quite biblically is Yes AND No. For the perfectionists, like the classical theologians, this is equivalent to "No". However, based on our covenant-relationship theology, the correct and biblical answer is BOTH, Yes and No, and that does not contradict the perfection of God at all.

So, WHY, we ask, did God completely answer the 2nd request but not the first request? What is inherently different between the two requests KNOWING that the God who answered the 2nd part of David's prayer is THE SAME GOD who did not seem to exactly answer the 1st request? Note also that the petitioner, David, was "a man after God's own heart", the same man. So, where lies the difference?

The answer goes back to God creating man in His image, autonomous with free will (and implicitly, what God imposed upon Himself to respect His own work and limit any exceptions to His foreordained laws). The answer is not surprising to those who see the Bible as a relationship book and not just a salvation book. The answer is obvious to those who accept covenant-relationship theology but forever a mystery to the classical theologian who continues to wallow in their own Hellenistic presuppositions about God.

The building of the temple had very little if at all to do with God manipulating man's will and man's heart. Hence, this is not only easy for God to perform, but it is something He delights to do. Miracles of healing, divine intervention in world and personal affairs, and even the raising of the dead, fall in this category. They have nothing to do with divine interference in God's own design of creating man in His image, a creature with independent will and heart that God has surrendered control over in the creation. In other word, God does not have to perform divine magic (by force) on man's heart and will, or divine heart-twisting. Note that God called Israel to rend their hearts and not their garments. Why? Precisely because God will not interfere with man's heart. Man's entire action should be based on his own independent will to desire and to do. That is the divine implication of creating man in God's image.

On the other hand, the first request of David could only allow God to participate in Solomon's affairs by courting him to do according to God's will and David's request. God WOULD not (note that I did not say COULD NOT) twist Solomon's heart for any reason. God would only court or encourage Solomon (this is God's version of tempting) to do His will. This same thing happened to Job. Note that Satan does not have the ability to twist man's heart by divine design. Hence Satan only tempts (which is his version of encouragement and courting).

God ordained at creation that the battle between good and evil would ultimately redound to the battle of winning hearts. In another blog, God's "Trial-and-Error" Attempts to Create a People of Faith for His Kingdom, I explained that the divine purpose for creating man boils down to God's desire to create a people of faith who willing love Him back and are willingly surrendered to His will.

God embedded free will as one of man's attributes when man was created in His image. His delight is when man gladly and willingly surrenders back that free will to God. Why? Because God ordained at the creation an attribute that He would surrender control over in order for it to be genuine. Love and devotion cannot be forced or faked. God desires genuine love. That is the essence of the Greatest commandment which is mentioned at least once in the Old Testament and at least three times in the Gospels.

God greatly, supremely delights in His children who love God with ALL their heart, ALL their soul, ALL their mind and ALL their strength precisely because He has ordained NOT to control it and therefore gives Him great joy when given by His kingdom children willingly.

To summarize, the answer is YES, God granted David's prayer by creating all the encouragement He allowed Himself to give to court Solomon's heart. However, the answer is NO because Solomon did not end well. When all was said and done, Solomon still had his own independent free will intact. What a 180 degree biblical contradiction to the classical concept of divine election and perseverance!!!

Here is a rhetorical point which, I admit, I have a biblical answer to but just refuse to preempt God's mercy vs. God's justice and judgment. If Calvinists propose that Solomon is in heaven anyway because he was "elected" ( fore-ordained, anointed, crowned), then all Christians would begin to lose the motivation to be holy in this life. Roman 6 would become a complete joke (God FORBID!) instead of a profound theological tenet. The Bible does say that Solomon turned away his heart from God (1 Kings 11:4,9) I would personally be surprised if I see King Solomon and King Saul in heaven because both of them demonstrated apostasy at the end of their lives DESPITE ELECTION.

It would be an object lesson to find out in heaven that you may be the greatest early king in history (Solomon) or the very first king of a chosen people (Saul) but it doesn't amount to a "hill of beans" in heaven.

If God did that, then for Him to be fair, we should also see all the other anointed but idolatrous and apostate kings of Israel and Judah in heaven. Would you believe that unconditional election will also make us see King Ahab in heaven? May God's will be followed and not mine. May His mercy prevail and not my logic.

Another profound lesson we can get from this is that we all have the God-ordained power to interfere with God's will for us. Hence, willing submission to God is of utmost importance to be partakers of God's joy and blessings.

May this thought encourage us to gladly surrender our free will to God moment by moment. That is the essence of surrendering to His will.

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