Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. (2 Timothy 2:8-9)
There is a God, and we are his creation. For sure, he is not only a metaphysical power, but also a personal intelligence. Christians think about God with an emphasis on the fact that he is a person, but often only partially think of him as a power. They call him powerful, and even say he is omnipotent, but they slap themselves in the mouth – and also God in the face – when they attempt to distance him from being the direct, total, and even the sole metaphysical cause of all evil. The implication is that there is another metaphysical power that constantly rearranges the universe without God’s immediate control. It is said that this power functions by God’s permission, but this is as far as it goes in terms of his involvement.
The result is a form of dualism, the view that there are two ultimate forces – one good and one evil – that control the universe, and that are in constant conflict with each other. This is a heresy that Christian theologians condemn, but they propagate a form of it themselves. Admittedly, this form of dualism does not say that the two forces are equal, but that the evil force is subject to the “permissive will” of the good force, and it is the good force that makes “permissive decrees” to regulate all the operations of the evil force. Nevertheless, the good force does not exercise direct control over all of creation, and for some unexplained reason, although the good force only “permits” the evil force to cause evil, the evil force is stupid enough to fulfill the good force’s agenda by performing the precise evil in the precise manner and degree permitted. In no instance does the evil force abstain, if only to defy the good force.
Of course, the whole theory is nonsense, but it is asserted in some form by many schools of theology, including almost all versions of Calvinism, which claims to honor God’s absolute sovereignty. But this popular form of Calvinism utterly fails, and must retreat into paradoxes and self-contradictions. Its enemies rightly mock this ridiculous construction, although they usually have an even weaker view of God’s sovereignty. The only view that is true to biblical revelation and necessary reason, and that avoids dualism, is the one that says God exercises complete, active, direct, and causative (not permissive) metaphysical control over all of creation, including all instances of evil. God is the author of sin and evil. There is no problem at all with this view because there is no divine law stating that God must not be the author of sin and evil, and God is the very definition of righteousness; therefore, it is a righteous thing that God is the author of sin and evil.
Although theologians think of God as a person, they fail to think of him as a total power, the only force that can create anything, sustain anything, and make any change to anything in the universe, whereas we as creatures cannot make even one hair white or black (Matthew 5:36). They think of him not as total power who is also a total person, but as nothing more than an extremely powerful person. Thus they easily apply human ethics to him, and judge him by a standard that they judge themselves – they deny that he is God. In any case, if God is not this total power, then we have dualism. But if God is indeed this total power, and if there is evil in the universe, then by metaphysical and logical necessity, God must be the author of sin and evil. There is no escape from this conclusion. Anything less than this is blasphemy against the nature and the majesty of the Most High. This blasphemy is the cherished tradition of almost all of Christendom.
So God is both a total power and a total person, and a person with a moral nature. He makes distinction between good and evil, and he defines them to man by his precepts and commands. But man has transgressed these precepts and commands, and this is called sin. The Bible says that the guilt – that is, not the subjective feeling of guilt, although that can be true also, but the objective condemnation – of the first man has been imputed to all his descendents, to every human person. God is a God of justice, and he is inclined to punish all sinners in a lake of fire for an endless duration. But he is also a God of mercy, so that even before he created humanity, he had already selected specific individuals that he would rescue from hellfire. He would accomplish this by sending God the Son to take on a human nature, to die for the sins of these chosen ones in this human nature, and then to rise from the dead for their justification before God. These individuals, then, would be changed from sinners to saints through the gift of faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
They will not suffer punishment for their sins, since God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, has paid their penalty. As God said through the prophet Isaiah, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (43:25). And he said by Jeremiah, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (31:34). How terrible it is to realize the truth that we have sinned, and that there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. But then how wonderful it is to learn that God has rescued us from the penalty we deserved by taking on a human nature and suffering the punishment in his own flesh! It is God who grants faith and repentance, for no one can come until God has chosen him and has moved him to come. If we will come to God through faith in Jesus Christ, then we are numbered among those who are saved, saved from hellfire and destined for heavenly glory.
These verses say that God will no longer “remember” our sins. According to a pastor in Hong Kong, this means that God takes our sins and throws them behind him, and when God throws something, it keeps on going forever. But does Newtonian physics apply to God’s power and our sins? The pastor is now a cult leader. Then, one preacher said that our sins are thrown into the “sea of forgetfulness” when God forgives them. But who is forgetful? God? Since then I have discovered that many evangelicals hold this view. Maybe they should join that cult in Hong Kong.
As usual, it takes a Reformed theologian to refine the blasphemy. Perhaps this is unfair – popular Reformed theology is already burdened with enough blasphemies and contradictions. In any case, this theologian wrote that although man cannot by an act of his will forget what he has done, God is all-powerful and is able to do this. He can inflict amnesia upon himself. And because of his grace, he is willing to do it. He can literally forgive and forget. But the idiot – I mean the theologian, not the God with amnesia – forgot that this contradicts God’s omniscience. To him, God must be merciful, and this necessarily means amnesia, and God must be omnipotent, and this also means amnesia. But he does not have to remain omniscient. Or maybe he is omniscient, at least when we are not talking about forgiveness. Can we affirm both divine omniscience and divine amnesia? Wonderful, another antinomy.
To remember often means more than to call to mind the mere existence of an object, but also to call to mind its significance, and sometimes it also implies taking some action that corresponds to this significance. I can remember that someone owes me money in the sense that the fact is present to my mind, but I do not have to note its significance or to act on the significance of this fact. I do not have to make him pay me back the money. I can even forgive the debt, but unless I have amnesia, I will still remember it. Or, someone can pay me the money on his behalf, so that he no longer owes me, but even then I will still remember that he once owed me the money. There will, however, be no basis to enforce the significance of the debt, since it has already been paid.
God will always remain omniscient. For this reason, he will always remember all of our sins down to the most minute details. But because the debt has been paid by Jesus Christ, God will not condemn us for them, either by verbally accusing us of them, or by punishing us with hellfire or other means. There is no longer a debt to be paid, but the memory of the debt cannot be erased. In fact, it would be disastrous for God to forget our sins in the sense of having amnesia. It would shake the entire fabric of the universe. This is because the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of Jesus Christ were all part of the plan of salvation, and salvation presupposes sin. The Godhead, or at least God the Father, would be hopelessly confused if he were to forget one of the crucial steps that led from creation to consummation. Imagine a startled Father who sees the Son at his right hand and demands, “What are you doing here? And why do you have a body? How long have I been asleep?” There is no need to continue the silliness. God does not forget. He remembers our sins, but not in the sense of acting on their significance, since those who believe in Christ have been forgiven and justified by his sacrifice and his perfect righteousness.
When Jesus instructed his disciples to break bread in remembrance of him, he did not mean that they were to call to mind his mere existence, but rather the significance of his sacrifice, symbolized by the breaking of bread. When the man who was crucified next to Jesus asked the Lord to remember him, he was not asking Jesus to call to mind his mere existence as one who was crucified next to him. He was, rather, asking Jesus to call to mind the fact that he confessed that Jesus was an innocent man and that he believed Jesus would possess a kingdom, and that Jesus should act on the significance of this confession. Jesus promised to bring this man to paradise that very day.
Thus when Paul says to remember Jesus Christ, he is not suggesting that Timothy should call to mind his mere existence. Although it is probably necessary to remind today’s Christians that there is a Jesus Christ, Timothy is not that spiritually bankrupt. Rather, Paul’s instruction is to call to mind the significance of Jesus Christ. This significance is explained in the message of the gospel. Contrary to how some people use the word, the “gospel” is not a bare minimum extracted from the whole body of biblical doctrines. New Testament usage indeed seems to focus on the redemptive events and actions associated with Jesus Christ, but it does not suggest a minimum.
Paul insists that he declares to his hearers the whole counsel of God, or the entire Christian faith. Sometimes he would mention one aspect of the faith to represent the whole, that is, either to focus the attention on an especially relevant issue or to employ it as a mere shorthand, referring to a part to represent the whole. For example, he writes that when he preached to the Corinthians, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). Many people, especially those with an anti-intellectual bias, interpret this to mean that Paul did not preach an entire body of biblical doctrines, and that he was not interested in theology or in intellectual arguments, but that he only preached the “gospel.” Likewise, we should not be so interested in doctrines, but only in preaching the gospel – or to put it in slightly pejorative terms, to preach barely enough information to slip people into heaven. Again, such usage misrepresents what the New Testament means by “gospel.”
In any case, Paul does not mention the resurrection here in 1 Corinthians 2:2. In fact, although he mentions that Jesus was crucified, he does not even say that he died as a result. And nothing is said about Jesus dying for our sins. Are not these facts necessary parts of the gospel, even as a bare-boned message? Later in the same letter, when the context demands it, Paul reminds the Corinthians that when he preached “the gospel” to them, he mentioned that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, that he appeared to witnesses, and so on (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
Evidently, although he uses “Jesus Christ and him crucified” as an expression that embraced all that he preached to the Corinthians (since he says he resolved to know nothing else among them), this is only a representation (not even a summary) of what he preached, when what he preached was doctrinally much more extensive than the bare expression can convey in itself. That is, the expression is not intended to be understood by itself, but as a representation of all that was preached to the people, which Paul calls “the gospel.” Jesus’ idea of preaching the gospel is for his disciples to teach people “to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). When introducing the Christian faith to unbelievers, and when teaching it to believers, we ought to present the maximum, not the minimum.
Here in the letter to Timothy, “my gospel” is represented, not summarized, by the two propositions that Jesus Christ was “raised from the dead” and that he was “descended from David.”
God the Son took upon himself human nature, and this human nature was tied to the historical lineage of David, fulfilling the ancient prophecies concerning the Messiah. Then, men murdered him. He was physically dead, and was buried. But God raised him from the dead. Thus the gospel is both historical and supernatural. Since God is the direct metaphysical cause of all natural and supernatural events, there is no essential difference between the natural and the supernatural. The supernatural designates only the extraordinary, that is, not something that is metaphysically different, but something that is unusual.
In any case, if a message compromises either the historical or the supernatural aspect, it is no longer the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. The facts about him are no longer told. We cannot say that Jesus indeed appeared in history, but that he did no miracles and that he did not rise from the dead. Neither can we spiritualize or supernaturalize the whole account about Jesus and severe him from history. The historical and the supernatural are one in Jesus Christ. To reject either is to reject the whole, and to be an unbeliever, subject to endless punishment in hellfire.
This message leaves no room for non-Christians to disagree. Because we claim both the historical and the supernatural, they cannot surrender one and retreat into the other. We say that there is absolute knowledge and morality. There is one correct account of the world, and one exclusive and comprehensive revelation from God. One is right, and all others are wrong. Therefore, total conflict is inevitable. Our gospel makes non-Christians look very bad, and when that happens, they get very mad. And because they cannot triumph in the arena of intellect and argument, they resort to persecution. But somehow we are the ones regarded as fools, as obscurantists, and even as terrorists, as disturbers of the peace. Paul was chained like a criminal.
Nevertheless, God’s word cannot be chained. Non-Christians may murder a preacher, but they cannot murder the gospel. What men can do to us, they cannot do to God or his word. The Christian faith will continue and will triumph.