Monday, January 12, 2015

Working with Who We Are?

I was reading III Maccabees recently.  III Maccabees is about the attempt by King Ptolemy IV Philopator in the late third century B.C.E. to obliterate the Jews of Egypt.  But the king has a miraculous change of heart and turns against his advisers who suggested such a plan.

How III Maccabees depicts this change of heart is rather odd.  There is nothing natural about it.  The king does not have an epiphany in which he realizes that he was wrong and why.  He just changes out of the blue.  Moreover, he doesn’t seem to take any personal responsibility for his anti-Jewish policy.  He just blames his advisers.

Josephus tells a similar story in Against Apion 2.53-55, only Josephus’ story has a different Ptolemy and is set later in history, during the time of Antony and Cleopatra (and the latter plays a significant role in Josephus’ story).  In Josephus’ story, though, the king of Egypt does not change his mind out of the blue.  Rather, there are two factors that influence him to abandon his plot against the Jews.  First of all, he sees a ghost who warns him not to hurt the Jews.  And second, his beloved concubine persuades him not to continue with his plan, and he changed his mind in response to her.

Josephus’ version of the story makes more sense to me, in this respect.  I think that God works with who we are rather than magically changing us out of the blue.

Would Calvinists disagree with me on this, with their belief in irresistible grace, and their notion that human beings are so sinful that they by themselves cannot seek God and thus need their hearts to be regenerated?  I wouldn’t be so sure.  They believe that God changes the heart, but they also believe that God uses means: the preaching of the word, for example.  In addition, I doubt that they would portray conversion the way that III Maccabees depicts it: as the king suddenly wondering what is going on and castigating his advisers for a policy that he himself helped institute.  My impression is that, for Calvinists, there is some continuity between the pre-Christian human being and the Christian human being: the Christian human being, however, sees things differently.

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