In order to make this a complete study, we have to look at a little history. You will be surprised at what you learn, I promise.
The Greek philosophers actually got a few things right about God, even while not really identifying Him as the one true God. They taught that He is pure, one, immaterial (i.e., a Spirit), self-sufficient, imperturbable, and that He works merely by thought, among other things, but they did not truly understand God. How could they without His Divine Revelation?
Xenophanes (d. 475 BC) broke away from the system of Greek gods. “They are as wicked as men,” he said in explanation. “God,” he noted, “is the greatest among the gods.” Sounds a bit like Nebuchadnezzar’s understanding of God.
Socrates (d. 399 BC) was forced to drink hemlock because he “did not accept the gods of the city.” Plato (d. 348 BC) said, “God is the first cause…the prime mover.” Aristotle (d. 322 BC) said that God is “the unmoved mover” who “knows all before it exists.”
Yet the God they described was abstract, impersonal, unreachable, perfect, and unmoved. If He is perfect, they reasoned, why would He change anything, especially His mind? If He is perfect and has arranged things perfectly, any change would be for the worse.
The philosophical thinking of the time involved three things:
1. Fate—you are assigned a life that cannot be changed, in theological words, predestination. What happens happens because it has to happen.
2. Immutability of God—the perfect doesn’t change. God is perfect, therefore God does not change.
3. Timelessness of God—if God has no beginning or end, He will know both the past and the future as well as the present. When taken with number one, this means He has your life planned and you have no choices.
Alexander’s [Greek] empire included most of the known world, so this philosophy spread. Greeks prevailed until Rome took over. Roman technology and military thinking prevailed, but they lost the culture wars—Greek culture prevailed there and so all these ideas spread.
The Stoics, whom the apostle Paul dealt with in Athens, lived by the principle of Fate, and had great influence in society. “You cannot change anything. Just accept it and don’t let it disturb you.”
First century Christians did not buy into this. They believed that the choices you make can make a difference in your life and even in the world. It was yet another way they stood out from their neighbors, at least until Augustine came along.
Augustine was Bishop of Hippo, in North Africa. Even though his mother was a Christian he was not at first. He was a philosopher who still believed in the Greek “package.” He could not accept a changeable God. He called the God of the Scriptures “absurd” and “offensive.” But eventually he was converted—sort of.
He followed Ambrose in “allegorical interpretation” of the Scriptures, which means you can make scripture mean anything, just call it an allegory. He looked for ways to incorporate his old philosophies into the Biblical teaching. He decided that Fate = God. The problem was he became the dominant voice in the early Roman Catholic Church.
This infection of Greek philosophy into New Testament theology continued unabated. Thomas Aquinas, who was called “the Doctor of the Church” actually wrote commentaries on Aristotle. Aristotle was taught in the early universities—where only priests and church dignitaries studied. Eventually Luther and Calvin came out of those schools. They called Fate by the Biblical word “predestination,” but they are not the same thing at all, as any thorough study will show. Still, those beliefs permeated all theology for centuries. You know all those “heretics” who were executed in the Middle Ages? They were the ones who rebelled against this unscriptural view of God and how He works.
Don’t think it doesn’t seep into our thinking. “It just wasn’t meant to be,” we sometimes say when we are struggling with a tragedy of life.
“I’m only human,” and, “Once saved, always saved,” all come from those old Greek philosophies, which in turn affected our theology.
I wish you all could have sat in the class I sat in last summer. Since you did not, here is the bottom line: Remember your stop sign. Stop trying to explain the unexplainable. Stop trying to bring God down to a human level. Just accept what His revelation says about Him, without trying to undo it or make it match your preconceived notions. That is the only reverent way to approach Him.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Ps 147:5