Columbo and the Case of the Contradiction - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonApologetics - A Reasoned Defense of the Christian Faith
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Can Columbo help his pastor overcome his glaring contradiction? Just one more question sir…
(As fun as this is to read, for a further in-depth look at the material in this “case” check out my book, “The Two Wills of God.”)
The pastor had just finished his sermon and ended with an eloquent prayer. The congregation was dismissed and the pastor made his way to the foyer to greet the people as they exited the sanctuary.
Lieutenant Columbo put on his overcoat and tapped his pockets looking for his keys. His head was shaking in a delayed reaction with the message that had been given this morning. He made his way enthusiastically to the foyer and eagerly approached the pastor with outstretched hands.
“Well, Lieutenant Columbo, how are you? And how is your wife – we missed her this morning” Pastor Brackel asked kindly and warmly.
Columbo shook Pastor Brackel’s hand with enthusiasm while speaking. “My wife is a bit under the weather. She decided it was best to rest at home. She knew I would give her all the details of this morning’s sermon. I must say sir, your sermon this morning was very interesting; very interesting indeed. I didn’t doze once. I was glued the whole time. It was riveting,” Columbo said in his NY draw. “The whole thing about Christ and the cross was excellent. It melted my heart. It really did, sir.” Columbo said genuinely.
“I’m glad to hear that it edified your soul.” Pastor Brackel replied.
“Oh, it was a delight sir. Your words and your style of preaching is a delight.” Columbo began to gesture with his pointed finger; “I remember when I used to go to the Catholic Church with my wife. They used to speak in Latin and I never understood what they were saying. I said to myself, “If I can’t understand it, how could it help?” I really didn’t think it could, but before my wife and I were saved, she thought the Catholic Church was the best thing going. Well, you know sir, she was raised that way. I think it was Paul who said some very interesting things about being in darkness, then coming into the God’s Kingdom. My wife and I have been reading through the New Testament for our Family Worship.”
“Yes Lieutenant; Paul in Colossians 1:13 says we have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the Christ’s Kingdom.”
The Pastor was ready to shake the hand of the next person and usher Lieutenant Columbo through the door. But Columbo scratched his head and paused a moment.
“Sir, I know you have many people here to greet, and I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I would like to ask you a question which has been bothering me, if I could. I don’t really want to get into it now, but I would like to meet with you this afternoon if that wouldn’t be too much trouble?”
Pastor Brackel smiled and said, “How about 3:30 at my study?”
“Oh sir, thank you very much. I’ll be there.” Columbo began to walk away and turned and waved, lit up one of his cigars, continued to his 1950 Peugeot, got in started it up and began to drive off. He thought to himself, “I have to quit smoking these things.”
Later that day…
Columbo knocked on the study door of Pastor Brackel at a prompt 3:30. He was greeted by the Pastor’s endearing smile and friendly handshake. “Come in Lieutenant.” He said.
“Thank you very much for seeing me sir. I know you’re a very busy man and I wouldn’t want to impose,” Columbo said while raising his palms and gesturing.
“Its no trouble to see you at all Lieutenant. Please sit down.”
“Thank you very much,” Columbo said while tucking in the sides of his overcoat into the chair and pulling out his small notepad and pencil.
They began with prayer and then Columbo scratched his chin for a moment.
“How can I help you Lieutenant Columbo? I believe you said something about a question? You look a bit perplexed.” The Pastor asked with a grin.
“I’ve been taking a class at the seminary; you know, to become familiar with some of these deep truths which I’ve been exposed to. Well, I’m puzzled about something you said this morning while teaching us the Bible, and something I have previously learned at seminary when they were teaching me the Bible. In fact, you have said a few things which I’d like to be a bit more clear on. You know, I’m not pastor, and I’ve only been a Christian for two years now, but I’m trying to reconcile some things which seem to be contradictory in God’s Word. The thing is this, I know God can’t contradict himself. But in this morning’s sermon, though I loved it dearly, you said, “God loves the sinner, but at the same time he hates the sinner.” I was very confused at this.” Columbo emphasized the word confused.
“Well, Lieutenant, we will see that John 3:16 says “God so loved the world…” God has a general love of the whole world. That is why He gave us His Son, to save the world if men would have him. But God also, in His secret council hates the wicked, and has decreed to damn them. Its not that they are contradictory in any way, it’s more of a mystery.”
“I understand what your saying. But for some reason, its not sitting in my mind just right. On the one hand, God seems to love the sinner, but on the other hand he hates him. I’ve been studying Calvin on this, and he says God is eternal. And since God is eternal, His divine will is eternal. Then I asked myself this question, “If God’s will is eternal, how can he have 2 opposite intentions for the same person?” Columbo’s eyes widened as he spoke and raise his hand to his forehead.
“I’m not sure I follow your logic Lieutenant.” The Pastor asked.
“You see sir, in my mind, I can’t reconcile this one thing: God loves and hates the sinner at the same time and in the same sense, for all eternity. You say that He does this because of passages like John 3:16. But I have found a great number of passages which say the exact opposite of John 3:16. For instance,” Columbo began flipping through his notepad. “…Romans 9:13 seem to be quite the opposite of John 3:16. That puzzles me. Esau is hated, and that is speaking of God’s predestination, but John 3:16 says he loves all sinners. It doesn’t seem to fit.” Columbo leaned forward a bit and paused. “I was hoping you would be able to lead me in the right direction.”
“Now Lieutenant, you have to remember that we are dealing with God’s infinite Word, and we cannot expect to know everything perfectly. We are to strive to know it, but God is an incomprehensible God. It would be an impossible task to understand the “deep things of God” which are beyond us.” The Pastor said.
“I certainly understand that sir. God’s word is infinite and it is eternal. I do understand we are finite human beings which couldn’t possibly understand everything. We would be God if that were the case.” Columbo replied.
“Exactly. I believe that even if we come across something in God’s word that seems to be contradictory, its only because of our fallen minds and limited knowledge that we must accept it by faith knowing God’s word does not err.” The Pastor said leaning back in his chair. He continued, “You might want to read Calvin’s Commentaries on this, or even RL Dabney’s works.”
“Would it be too much to ask to borrow a book or two? I mean, I’m no theologian and my library is a bit slim, but I would like to understand your position. Maybe reading something which convinced you may help me.”
The Pastor handed Columbo Calvin’s Commentary on John, and Dabney’s Systematic Theology. He also stuck in the cover of one of the books, a Xeroxed copy of Andrew Fuller’s arguments in volume 2 of his works concerning the same topic, as well as John Murray and Ned Stonehouse’s booklet on the issue.
“Are you sure I can borrow these?” Columbo asked with a grin.
“I’m sure Lieutenant; you just be sure to bring them back in one piece.”
“Oh, you can count on that sir. I’ll return them as good as new.” Columbo stood up, “Sir, I don’t’ want to take any more of your time. I know you’re a very busy man. I appreciate you spending this time with me. I’ll be here tonight to hear the other sermon. Like I said earlier today, my wife is still under the weather, so she won’t make it tonight, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Columbo gathered his borrowed books and closed his notebook. He placed it in his pocket and gave the Pastor a hearty handshake. He walked out the door and raised his hand up as he left and said “Bye for now.”
Monday morning’s class finished at 10:00am, and Columbo waited for all the other students to leave the room. The professor was erasing the board and Columbo raised his right hand and said somewhat loudly from the back of the room, “Professor!”
Professor Hendricks turned to see Columbo walking down the amphitheater steps to meet him at the whiteboard.
“Well hello there Mr. Columbo,” said Professor Hendricks in his low Swiss voice. “You look as though you desire to ask me a particular question; are you in deep thought about something?”
“Well professor, its something that’s bothering me. Ya see, I’m working on a case.”
“Columbo, I thought you retired from police-work?” asked the professor.
“Oh no, no, no, sir. It’s not that kind of a case. I’m investigating a biblical idea on God’s will. No, you’re right professor, I am retired. But this a personal investigation for myself. See, my wife and I have been discussing our Pastor’s sermons in light of God’s Word. You know, Paul exhorts us to be Barons.”
“I think you mean “Bereans” Mr. Columbo.” The Professor said smiling.
“Did I say it wrong? Oh I’m sorry. I still trying to keep all these names and countries straight; and those Old Testament names…!” Columbo put his hand to his check and rolled his eyes. “But professor, I’d like to ask you a question if you have the time.”
“Well, I’m struggling to understand how the Bible could say on the one hand, “God loves sinners” and then on the other hand “God hates sinners.” That seems to me to be a contradiction. I mean, if someone said to me “I hate you while love you” while I was standing here, I’d be awfully confused; wouldn’t you?”
The professor chuckled and said, “Yes, I suppose I would be.”
“Now my problem professor is that my pastor has said this very thing while preaching a few sermons. He said “God loves sinners generally in Adam and God hates sinners specifically in Adam for all eternity. That’s confusing to me. I mean, men who are reprobated are never in Christ at all. Are they? I thought they’re all dead in Adam.” Columbo said with a grimace.
The Professors stroked his bread and folder one arm on the other. “You see Columbo, there are some who believe that God genuinely loves all men. They believe Jesus Christ died for all men and that all men then have a possibility of being saved. Historically they are called Amyraldians, Semi-Pelagians or Arminians, and in some extreme cases Pelagians.”
Columbo wrote vigorously on his notepad while the professor explained.
“The Reformed Creeds do not agree with those men. The Reformers, the Puritans and those of the Reformed persuasion hold that God does not love all men in that way. They say God loves some men in Christ. They do not believe all men have the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection applied to them in any way. These men think God can only love sinners in Christ savingly and that is the difference.”
“Now that is v…e…r…y interesting,” Columbo said. “But what do these other men, those men who believe in these big words I just scribbled down, go to for their Scriptural sources? Do they have texts which help them come to their “Arminian” positions? Did I say that right?”
“Yes Columbo, you said that fine. Well, to answer the question honestly, there a few select passages which they adhere to which help their position. One would be…”
“John 3:16!” Columbo said.
“…yes, John 3:16..”
“What do you think about these passages that they use. By the sound of your voice it seems you are in disagreement with them.” Columbo asked.
“Yes, I would have to say I believe their interpretation of John 3:16 pertaining to the entire world is frustrated on account of their interpretation. I do not believe they have a right understanding of what the words “so” and “gave” mean in the context of Scripture as a whole. The Bible says God “so loved” the world. Not that He generally loved, but that he “so loved”. This is more than a general love. It is strengthened by the word “gave.” The Scriptures speak emphatically about the giving of God’s Son for sin. That giving is nowhere relevant to a general love, but an electing love. So I think that Scripture does quite an injustice to their cause since it teaches the exact opposite, not to mention it goes against Jesus’ thought in the passage with Nicodemus.”
“Professor, why do you think God used the word “world” in that verse?” Columbo asked. “Why didn’t he just say, “God so loved the elect…?”
“I believe the cultural significance in his discussion is most evidently the import for the use of the word. Nicodemus was a Jew. The Jews believed they were the chosen of God. Jesus shows him, throughout his conversation in that passage, that there has been a shift from the “Israelite nation” to the entirety of the whole world. God’s redemptive purpose had always intended the world, but the Jews had not gathered their children together as they should have,” the Professor said. Professor Hendricks continued in his discussion with Columbo for some time, and the Lieutenant took every moment that the professor would give him. He scribbled down his notes vigorously.
Two hours later, Columbo placed his hand on his head and began to nod in agreement. The professor had finished talking and Columbo said, “Thank you very much for your time sir. I am very grateful you went out of your way to help me with this question. I have quite a bit to think about. And I will read that book you suggested…slowly”
“It was my pleasure Mr. Columbo.” The professor gathered his things and made his way to the door.
Columbo raised his hand and said, “Thank you very much.” The Professor smiled and left the room.
Columbo flipped through the pages of his notebook for a few minutes until a group of students walked into the classroom. Columbo looked up in surprise. “I’m sorry fella’s, I’ll get out of your way.” Columbo began to make his way by the students and to the door.
“Its okay, this is just an informal discussion on infant baptism. You are welcome to stay if you would like.”
Columbo decided to stay, thinking that a discussion on infant baptism, which he had never considered before, may be helpful in his theological study. He joined the group as they staggered themselves around the study tables and began debating the issue.
It was after lunch on Tuesday when Pastor Brackel heard a knock on his study door. He had not scheduled an appointment, and was surprised by the knock. When he opened the door, Lieutenant Columbo was standing there with his notepad in hand and a smile on his face.
“Good morning Lieutenant. What can I do for you?” the Pastor said with a cheerful enthusiasm.
“I hope I’m not bothering you sir. But I was on my way to the grocery store—its my wife sir—she needed some of that headache medicine; she’s still not doing so well—and I thought I would just stop by for a moment and shoot something passed you that I learned in school yesterday, if you have the time of course.” Columbo said hesitantly.
“I can spare a few minutes. Come in.” The Pastor opened the door wider for Columbo to enter.
“Thank you very much.” Columbo took his seat and opened up his notepad to the notes he had taken from professor Hendricks. “You see sir,” Columbo grimaced, “I certainly want to fully understand how God can love the world and hate the world at the same time. Especially in the Scripture I am wrestling with, John 3:16, and some of those other Scriptures you used which were not so straight forward; at least they don’t seem to me to be as straight forward as you presented them. See, here’s my dilemma: in a crime investigation, the killer could not be there, and not be there at the same time. That’s where the investigation comes in, that’s why they call me. My job is to investigate what actually happened, though there seemed to be an apparent contradiction with the suspect’s alibi. But, usually, and I really can’t remember if this wasn’t the case, most of the criminals I have convicted had a seemingly apparent contradiction with their whereabouts concerning the time of the murder and the case as a whole. It wasn’t until I came to the case with a clear objectivity, and took each piece of the crime scene and the facts and evidence one by one and put them together would I have a case. If I had conflicting evidence, I would have no case and could never send the case to trial because there would a reasonable doubt, nor could I arrest the suspect. It seems in this case,…” Columbo paused and gestured with his hands. “…Oh sir, I don’t really mean this is a case, but I’m treating it as such to understand the facts surrounding Christ and the benefits of his death. On the other hand, we are talking about a death, though it be God’s Son, so I suppose I have come out retirement for a time.” Columbo smiled.
“Lieutenant,” The Pastor seemed a bit concerned. “It is very important that your “logic” not override the Scriptures. We must never allow the handmaiden Hagar to overrule Sarah. When logic fails us, the Scriptures never do. And just because there seems to be something contradictory, that does not mean it is. That only means we simply do not have the infinite understanding that God does to figure it out.”
“That analogy is very clever sir. Very clever indeed.”
“Also, we would deem this whole “problem” you are having in coming to the Scriptures with your factual “logicians” mind, a paradox.”
“Yes Lieutenant. A paradox is something which seems contradictory but is not. Its something we are just not able to reconcile while in this life. Like the controversy over free will and the sovereignty of God.”
Columbo chuckled to himself and smiled widely at Pastor Brackel. “Sir, there is so much to consider isn’t there.”
“Yes there is Lieutenant.” Pastor Brackel stood up, “Lieutenant, if you wouldn’t mind I really must be getting back to work.”
“I fully understand sir, sorry for taking up so much of your time already.” Columbo stood up to leave and then stopped. “Sir, I do have one other question I would like to ask before I go if its not a bother.”
Pastor Brackel, being the exceedingly kind man he is, could not refuse the Lieutenant. “I can spare just a minute.”
“Oh, thank you sir. This is the question: is your definition of the word “world” in the context of John 3:16, the only valid interpretation, or are there others?”
“Well, lieutenant, that’s a simple question to answer in this regard; there are a varieties of answers but not all are exegetically correct. My interpretation is not only an exegetical attempt at the verse, but also is backed by the history of the church as well, with such men as Calvin.”
I do understand that sir, and so I inquired with Dr. Hendricks at the seminary on this question and we talked for some time. Did you know sir, that Calvin wrote over 23 volumes in his commentaries alone. That’s a great amount of writing. I have a hard time myself writing a letter let alone 23 commentaries. I can’t understand when the man had the time, especially without one of those computers people use now a days.”
“Yes. Lieutenant. He did write a lot, but I am not sure of your point.”
“Well, with all that writing, and certainly being a fallible human being, surely he would have made a mistake or two; nobody’s perfect. And in his commentary on John 3:16, seems to be in contradiction to what he says in his writings called the Institutes of the Christian Religion.”
“I don’t understand what you mean Lieutenant. Are you saying Calvin has not taught the same thing in the Institutes as he does in the commentaries?” Pastor Brackel asked with a contorted smirk. “Have you read Calvin thoroughly?”
“I must say sir, I have only read the one book you gave on Calvin and the Institutes. Dr. Hendricks was the one who told me about Calvin’s Institutes, so I had to see for myself if it was true. And I must admit sir, that if I had that book alone, Calvin’s commentary I mean, I would have to say your position, at least with Calvin, would seem to be airtight.”
“Are you saying Calvin is not airtight? And are you implying my position is incorrect? I’ve been studying Calvin and Reformed theology for many years Lieutenant, and I have talked with many individuals about this subject, and I think it’s airtight.” Pastor Brackel said with more emphasis.
“Well sir, I certainly do not presume to be an expert on these things. I know you have studied for many years, and I respect the time you have put in. Certainly you know Calvin better than me. I’m just trying to find out if there is more than one valid and logical road through John 3:16, that’s all sir,” Columbo said while he stood up. “I’m sorry if I’ve taken too much of your time sir. I need to be going.”
“Keep studying Lieutenant; you’ll find the same thing I have after an in-depth study on the subject.”
“I’m sure I will. Thank you so very much for your time sir. I’ll see you on the Lord’s Day, and I hope Mrs. Columbo will be able to make it as well. You know she still isn’t well. The doctor thinks it may be the flu.” Columbo walked out the door and towards his car while lighting up a stogie.
“You really should quit those Lieutenant.” Pastor Brackel encouraged him.
“I know Pastor, but sometimes old habits die hard, don’t they.” Columbo smiled, started up his car and drove away.
Wednesday morning Columbo drove to the seminary library to do some study. He picked up a book that Professor Hendricks suggested and tucked it under his arm. He continued to look through the books. While checking the stacks he overheard two people whispering in the back of the library concerning philosophy. Columbo walked over as his overcoat brushed up against the book stacks.
“Excuse me fellas; I don’t mean to intrude, but I overheard you talking about philosophy. You were whispering, and I really couldn’t make out what you were saying concerning the “contradiction.”” Columbo stated. “Could I join your conversation if I may?”
“You may.” The hefty man answered; his beard flowing almost down to his chest.
“My name is Lieutenant Columbo. I’ve been taking some classes with Dr. Hendricks. But I am having a problem that includes a contradiction, at least in my mind and I was wondering if you might be able to help me, Mr. Ahhh…” Columbo didn’t know their names.
“I am Dr. Stevens, head of the Philosophy department and this is one of my students, Monty Jelsin.” Dr. Stevens said with a whisper.
“Very nice to meet both of you.” Columbo said in a half stooped gesture. “I was wondering…” Columbo was not whispering.
The librarian came over and politely asked the three to be a bit quieter. Columbo apologized fervently and the three of them decided to take their conversation to the hallway.
“I was wondering, how can John 3:16 mean something that would contradict the rest of the Word of God? It just bother’s me that there seems to be an apparent contradiction.” Columbo said while touching his forehead.
Dr. Steven replied saying, “Is this a true contradiction or apparent contradiction? You see Lieutenant Columbo, there is a great difference between a contradiction, which is the statement of two opposites stating a relationship of something at the same time and in the same sense. That would violate what is called the Law of non-contradiction.”
“Wait one minute please…” Columbo pulled out his notepad and pencil and began to scribble. “The Law of non-contradiction.” Columbo said the words as he wrote. “I know the law very well, having been a lieutenant in the police force for 30 years or so. Now what does that law say?”
Dr. Steven’s acquiesced the answer to Monty, hoping Monty would be able to give a proper response. “The law of non contradiction teaches that “A” cannot be both “A” and “Non-A” at the same time and in the same relationship, or same sense.”
Dr. Stevens smiled with a note of happiness.
Columbo scribbled and murmured the words as he wrote. “I am very familiar with that concept, though I never really put it together as well as you just said. That was very profound, but I believe I’m following you. See on the crime scene, someone could not be at the scene of the murder and not at the scene at the same time. Or the knife could not be a piece of evidence and not be a piece of evidence at the same time; although I can remember many times where I wished it was.”
“Exactly Lieutenant.” Monty said.
“But here is what bothers me, how does that apply to the Word of God since its God’s Word.” Columbo emphasized “God’s Word.”
“Well,” Dr. Stevens said, “First, it is God’s Word to us. We must be able to rationally understand it. Calvin said in his Institutes that God’s Word was a “lisping” to us as we lisp to a baby. It is accommodating to us in a way we are able to grasp and understand, though not as completely as we would like. Secondly, God’s Word must be without error or it cannot be divine. A contradiction in the Word would mean it did not come from God. If God is perfect, His Word must be the same. Thirdly, without the law of non-contradiction we would not be able to think, period. We would wind up in all sorts of absurdities.”
“I understand completely. But what do we do with the argument for John 3:16 and then the problem with the select other texts which seem to say the opposite?” Columbo genuinely inquired. “I mean, if Romans 9:13 says God hates Esau, and John 3:16 says He loves the World, isn’t that a contradiction?”
Monty looked at Dr. Stevens. Dr. Stevens decided to take the difficult answer. “Men’s minds, being finite, do not have all the information they require to understand God fully. God’s Word is infinite which means men are going to have a difficult time, an impossible time, understanding it fully. There will be those areas which God seems to say one thing, and other areas which seem to say another. For instance, God is said to be immutable, and James says there is not shadow of turning with Him, but Genesis says God was grieved after man’s fall. Though the two seem to be contradictory, we must investigate further to come to a right conclusion. We cannot be content with even an apparent contradiction since we know the Bible explicitly states that God is always the same. To have even an apparent contradiction would be to deface the Scripture and hand Christianity over to absurdity.”
“That’s very interesting Doctor; very interesting indeed. You believe Christianity would be reduced to absurdity if we allowed apparent contradictions into our theology?” Columbo asked.
“Yes. Here, and in other like instances, is the difference between effectus and affectus. The actual affect taking place, or the seeming affect as if it happened but did not. Those who do not understand this often fall into a biblical conundrum to say the least. And many people often place apparent contradictions into the box of the “mysterious” in order to make sense of their own theology.” Dr. Stevens said.
“Mysteries are right up my alley.” Columbo said with a smile. “I’ve dealt with them for 30 years.”
Monty walked back in the library and came back with 2 books and handed them to Columbo. “These may help.”
“”Apologetics” and “The Doctrine of Knowledge.” Interesting titles. These will help in understanding John 3:16 and Romans 9?” Columbo asked; the books did not look as though they were commentaries.
Dr. Stevens said, “Yes. Think of them as introductions to thinking. A wise man once said, “People cannot rightly understand propositional truth if they cannot think.””
Columbo nodded. “Gentlemen, its been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you for being so gentle with my ignorance. I’m new to this and still learning.” Columbo cocked his head and spread his arms apart while he spoke; one book in one hand and one in the other. He began to take a step backward and raised his hand, “Goodbye, and thank you very much for you time.”
Pastor Brackel was getting out of his car and began to make his way towards the trunk. He was parked in the front of the parsonage just coming home from the grocery store when he heard what sounded like a gunshot about 50 feet away coming from down the street. He looked up quickly to see if someone was hurt and saw Lieutenant Columbo driving up in his decrepit Peugeot as it backfired. Pastor Brackel gave a disappointing smirk, and continued to grab the bags of grocery out of his trunk.
Columbo waved from inside the car and began to open the door. “I’m sorry if I startled you, sometimes this old thing backfires. You would laugh if you had seen some people’s reaction when I drove up to the crime scene.” Columbo stopped by the car where Pastor Brackel was unloadding. “I stopped by your study at the church but you weren’t there. So I thought you may here at home since today, as I remembered, its your day off.”
“Yes Lieutenant, this is my day off.” Pastor Brackel looked at Columbo hoping he would quickly catch on.
“I know its your day off and you work so hard all week long, but I have to ask, could you help me for just a moment to sort something out which I haven’t been able to get out of my mind since Monday? It will only take a moment, really.”
Pastor Brackel handed Columbo a bag of groceries. “Okay Lieutenant, follow me. But I really do only have a moment, so why don’t you ask me you question why we walk?”
“Fair enough sir. Here’s the thing, if your interpretation of John 3:16 is based on the text itself and then supplemented by Calvin’s position, how can you reconcile that against Romans 9:13? Wouldn’t you say that Roman’s 9:13 is explicitly contradicting John 3:16? And then, if that were the case, wouldn’t that be a contradiction in the Word of God? I mean how can God love the World, which I assume you mean everyone for all time, which would even extend to those in hell, and then hate Esau? That seems to me like your believing something which is in opposition to itself and self-defeating.”
Pastor Brackel took the groceries inside and placed them on the kitchen counter. Columbo followed him and did the same.
Columbo continued since Pastor Brackel did not answer him immediately. “I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Stevens and a very bright young man named Monty today; that was this morning. Dr. Stevens is the Philosophy professor at the school and Monty is one of his students. They talked with me about this problem and then gave me some books on “Apologetics” which I have already been reading today – very interesting material by the way. Anyway, they said that the Word of God can’t have any contradictions in it.”
Pastor Brackel cut him off and said, “Of course, lieutenant, we have been over this I think. The Word of God cannot have any contradictions in it. I agree.”
“What about apparent contradictions, sir?”
“Those are mysteries Lieutenant. See God’s Word has apparent contradictions because we are finite human beings who do not have all the information and ability to sort that information in order to understand, or shall I say, “comprehend” everything perfectly. Things which are apparently contradictory are thing like the Incarnation and the Trinity, and this whole idea of God hating and loving the reprobate.” Pastor Brackel stopped putting away his groceries and turned to Columbo. Columbo was, as usual, scribbling down on his notepad.
“Sir, one more question if I may. I have worked crime scenes and with murder suspects for 30 years now. In those 30 years I have never been able to say that the murder weapon was at the scene of the crime and not at the scene of the crime at the same time. If I did, they’d think I was losing my marbles. No court would ever accept that kind of logic.”
Pastor Brackel cut him off again, “Lieutenant, a crime scene is not the same as dealing with the infinite nature of God’s Word. If God says he loves and hates the reprobate at the same time then He does, and that’s enough for me. We must let the text speak for itself and we cannot impose anything on God’s Word because it doesn’t fit our logic. God is higher than logic Lieutenant.” Pastor Brackel paused. “I was hoping to enjoy the rest of my day off. Would you please excuse me now? Maybe we can talk about this later, on the Lord’s Day perhaps?”
Columbo closed his eyes, backed up and raised his hands, “I am sorry for intruding sir. I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.” Columbo walked to the door and was going to let himself out, when he turned around, “Sir?”
Pastor Brackel stood up from behind the counter as he was trying to finish the groceries. He leaned onto the counter and said, “Yes Lieutenant,” with an exhausted tone.
“Just one more thing, sir. I just wanted to let you know I have been enjoying the books you gave me and will be finished with them very soon. I especially found Dabney to be quite interesting. And Andrew Fuller, well, his views were compelling to say the least. Murray and Stonehouse said some very interesting things.” Columbo began to make his way back into the kitchen, “I also thought that Calvin…”
“Pastor Brackel interrupted, “Lieutenant, my day off? Its my day off.”
“Oh, I apologize sir. I’ll just see myself out.”
Columbo waved and turned, and finally walked out the door, humming “This Old Man.”
Friday evening Columbo sat in his easy chair while reading Calvin’s Institutes. He paused after reading for about 4 hours and then looked up with a great look of surprise on his face. He then picked up the book that Professor Hendricks suggested and read through it. It was a very tough read but Columbo managed to get through it all. “Very interesting indeed.”
Pastor Brackel was reading when he heard the phone ring. His wife answered and she said, “Yes, he’s right here. Please hold on.” She walked to her husband and handed him the phone, “Its Mr. Columbo dear.” Pastor Brackel took the phone reluctantly.
“Hello sir, I was wondering if we could meet tomorrow. It won’t take long. Maybe a few minutes to discuss my findings on this whole John 3:16 problem I seem to be having. Is there any specific time which would be best for you?”
“Well, tomorrow is my final day for preparing for the Lord’s Day.”
“I completely understand sir. That’s why I said it won’t take long. Would 3:00 be Ok?” Columbo asked in his usual polite manner?
“Yes Lieutenant. 3:00pm. See you tomorrow at the study.”
“Oh thank you sir. I appreciate your time very much. See you tomorrow. Bye for now.” Columbo hung up.
Columbo pulled up to the church, parked, locked his car, and then proceeded inside when he met Mr. Ridgley, one of the retired Pastors of this church coming out. Mr. Ridgley had been in Grace Baptist Church for 26 years, and recently retired after mentoring into the position of full time Elder Pastor Brackel.
“Good morning sir.” Columbo greeted him with great eagerness.
“Columbo, nice to see you.” The aged man said. “I hear you have been investigating some doctrinal truths on John 3:16.” He inquired.
“Yes sir, my investigation has been very enlightening, I must say.”
“Remember Columbo, the people of this church have believed these truths for years. They are committed to the historic Reformed positions.”
”I’m not sure I understand. I don’t think I’m following sir.” Columbo said courteously.
“You’re a young man in the faith. Take your time and learn from the wisdom of your peers is all I’m saying. If you will excuse me, I need to be on my way.” Mr. Ridgley began to walk to his car. Columbo ran over to the door and opened it up for him and Mr. Ridgley gave him a thank you and Columbo said “You’re very welcome sir.”
Pastor Brackel looked at his watch. It was 2:58pm. He looked up at the door and waited for a knock. Two minutes later, Columbo tapped on the study door.
“Come in.” Pastor Brackel said.
Columbo peaked his head inside and stopped, “Hello sir.” He continued all the way in and shut the door behind him. “Thank you for seeing me on short notice and on a difficult time table as you have, especially today.”
Pastor Brackel could not but smile at his politeness, although he was very aware that there was more to the smile than Columbo would let on.
Columbo took his seat in a leather chair on the other side of the desk, across from the Pastor. They prayed together and Columbo began to speak.
“Pastor Brackel, I’ve spent the last week studying and inquiring concerning the message last Sunday. I had many questions about John 3:16 and your own quotes from Calvin – that wonderful writer and reformer. I must say he is very knowledgeable. I enjoyed reading him thoroughly. But I have found some interesting observations. If I might be so bold as to say, sir, I think I’ve cracked the case.” Columbo flipped back a few pages in his notepad. “You said John 3:16 explains God’s intention towards the whole world. But that simply cannot be true. The reason I use the word “cannot” be true is because the Scriptures, cannot have any contradictions. Now you agreed in that the Scriptures are to be free from contradictory statements. Instead, you placed the text of John 3:16, and others, into a realm called “apparent contradictions.” You also placed in that box, the Trinity, and the two nature of Christ. But there is a difference between a paradox and a mystery.” Columbo leaned forward a bit. “You see sir, a paradox is something that is apparently contradictory, but upon closer examination it proves to be reconcilable. These paradoxes are not something which are experienced in heaven; they only happen here. They could not possibly need to reconcile anything in heaven. But here on earth, we are dealing with all sorts of difficulties when it comes to understanding, not the least of which is the fallen mind. I’m always reminded of my fallen mind. My wife asks me to pick up some butter on the way home and I always forget. Then I have to go back out again; its really discouraging.”
“I see.” Said Pastor Brackel.
“The apparent contradiction is reconcilable without having any contradictions at all if we investigate enough and have all the facts. I think that a lack of studying causes us to rely on the wrong idea of paradox far too frequently in our day – at least that’s what I think based on all the Reformation reading I have been doing. Further reexamination of the facts will always lead us into a non-contradictory set of beliefs. Now those paradoxes are far different, and in another class all their own, than what we refer to as a “mystery”. A “mystery” is something that is beyond us, but not contradictory, or even apparently contradictory. Like you said, the Trinity is a mystery. It does not contradict logic, or even apparently contradict logic. But it is above logic for us. It uses a higher logic and further need of divine help than we can attain while we are in these fallen bodies. So there is a great difference between the paradox, or apparent contradiction, and the mystery. The philosophy books Dr. Stevens and Monty gave me were very helpful on this point. They showed me that epistemologically, that’s a big word I learned this week, logic precedes God. But ontologically, God precedes logic. “Ontologically” was another big word and took me two hours just to think through. But, this was very helpful in sorting all this out. It showed me God is very logical as the eternal Logos. He has given us the necessary faculties of the mind to understand his Word. His Word speaks to us here and now. There will be no need of the Bible in heaven, but we do need it now. And it doesn’t make much sense at all to give us something that would confuse one of his elect. Saying that something is apparently contradictory, is, for God, and for us, a real contradiction. I did read Dabney, and that article by Andrew Fuller, as well as some other things I checked out of the library. They seem to fall into the same rut in each instance. They place this issue in the box of an apparent contradiction and then “say with Paul”, how “great” God is and His ways are “past finding out.” But I don’t believe it’s a contradiction or even an apparent contradiction. Murray and Stonehouse did the same. They said it was a mystery and therefore made a wrong conclusion on the whole thing. I would say it this way – God hates the sinner in Adam before the foundation of the world. That’s the reprobate. But if I say God loves the sinner in Adam and hates the sinner in Adam, from the foundation of the world, then I have stated a contradiction. I can only say, in that instance, that God either loves or hates, but not both. And I couldn’t rightly say he loves any in Adam because we are at enmity with God because of sin. I could say he has a general love, which equates to what we see in the world as elect saints, which follows all creatures indiscriminately, like Psalm 145 teaches us, but I could never say he loves them savingly. Then, on the flip side is this: when it comes to the elect, I can say this – God loves the sinner in Christ savingly, and hates the same sinner previously to his conversion in Adam from the foundations of the world. But here is the great truth about that, it is not in at the same time and in the same sense. I never enter into a contradiction or even an apparent contradiction. God’s will remains consistent and we don’t’ do any damage to the divine character.”
Pastor Brackel wiggled in his chair to get a bit more comfortable.
“You said in your sermon, that we should…” Columbo flipped to the page in his notepad, “…let the text speak for itself. Is that right sir?”
“Yes Lieutenant, I did say that and I think we should.”
“Do you think we should do that as a general rule for the Bible?” Columbo asked.
“Of course.” Pastor Brackel stated.
“I have my Bible with me here.” Columbo reached in his pocket, pulled out his small bible and then put on his bifocals. “I’m looking at Psalm 90 where it states that “Under His wings” we will find refuge.” I’m no linguistic expert, but if I were to allow the text to speak for itself, God could be considered a big chicken. Or if I turn over to Hebrews…” Columbo flipped through the pages to the New Testament. “Before I read this, could I ask you if you are a dichotomist or Trichotomist. Dabney mentions this in the book you lent me. It really didn’t have anything to do with my study on John 3:16, but the words made me curious so I read a bit on it.”
“I am a dichotomist. The Trichotomist theory is a heretical theory.”
“Yes sir, I agree with you, and so does R.L. Dabney. But when I read this passage in Hebrews 4:12, speaking about God’s word, it says that the sword of God’s Word divides “even the soul and spirit.” Now to me, if I were to let the text speak for itself, I would have a problem being a dichotomist. But as a Dichotomist, I go through a bunch of exegetical gymnastics to get to my position, which I think is right according to the full testimony of the Word. I even find this to be very convincing when we look at Matthew 26:26. Jesus says, “this is my body,” in that passage. If we were to let the text speak for itself, wouldn’t that be a problem? We would end up back in the Roman Catholic Church. And being saved from the Roman Catholic Church was a blessing—I don’t ever want to return. And each time we take communion, you are very careful to explain what Jesus means here. You never let the text speak for itself there.”
“No I guess I don’t.” Pastor Brackel admitted.
“I thought that would be an important point to bring up since you seem inconsistent in the way you are translating John 3:16 to the way you translate the rest of the Bible. Now I don’t want you to get the idea that I think God is a chicken, and I certainly meant no disrespect by that at all.” Columbo said genuinely.
“I know that Columbo.” Pastor Brackel said.
Columbo continued, “I also found out something very interesting while I was reading, concerning Calvin. Your view on John 3:16 seems to be a parrot of Calvin’s commentary on the verse. I really didn’t see how your view was any modification or change to what Calvin said in the commentary. So after reading his comments on John 3:16, I went to the Institutes and read them. I enjoyed them thoroughly. And Mrs. Columbo, she also thought that the parts I read to her were very fascinating indeed, sir.” Columbo flipped through his notebook to another page. “In reading Calvin’s Institutes, I didn’t find anything like what I found in the commentaries. The commentary seemed to say one thing in contradiction to the Institutes. I wrote down here that you handled that discrepancy in your sermon, by appealing to Calvin’s maturity and age. You said that the Institutes were the younger Calvin and the commentaries were the older Calvin, and that may be true chronologically, but it doesn’t hold any weight at all. Do you know why that is?” Columbo asked.
“I suppose you know the answer Lieutenant.” Pastor Brackel said.
“As a matter of fact I do, but not because I made it up, but because Calvin himself told me.”
“Calvin told you this?” Pastor Brackel asked with surprise.
“Yes sir.” Columbo stood up, took down a copy of the first volume of Calvin’s Institutes off the Pastor’s shelf, and turned to the preface. “Calvin writes in the preface to the Latin version that if there are any difficult sayings in his commentaries, which at this point, he had not written yet, that we should go to the Institutes to reconcile the difference. I guess he was preempting his own ideas. Then, some years later, he wrote the preface to the French edition.” Columbo motioned with his hand. “I believe it was around 1559 he did this, 4 years before His death. He wanted his own countrymen to benefit from his work so he translated it into French. He says in the French preface, very explicitly, that if there were any question as to what he meant in the commentaries, that one would need to go to the Institutes to reconcile it. He also says in this preface that he wrote briefly in the commentaries, but in the Institutes, he has explained everything. Now if I were to admit that in court, it would show, without a reasonable doubt, that Calvin’s Institutes are his mind on the Scriptures, more so than his commentaries are, so to speak. The jury would never believe the standing testimony of a witness, which is more recent, than the written words in a journal from a week ago. That would simply not hold water; one of the two would have to be in error. But a death bed testimony, from Calvin himself, to appeal tot he Institutes is very strong. Very strong indeed. ”
Pastor Brackel began shifting his weight again.
Columbo leaned forward and smiled, “I don’t believe you mention the Institutes very often in your sermons. As much as I don’t want to say this, I believe you skewed the evidence to the contrary to allow the Reformer enough leeway to hold your position. Now, I’ve been here for 2 years in your church, and I’ve heard very little of Calvin being quoted from the pulpit. But when you gave this sermon, you quoted him extensively in his commentary but without quoting him extensively from what he himself believed held the greater weight, his Institutes.” Columbo leaned back in his chair. “I’d also like to address this other contention I was having with your hermeneutic. I really like the sound of that word “hermeneutic.” It makes me feel like I know something when I say it. But I certainly don’t know the half of what you know pastor. Anyway, on Monday I was talking to Dr. Hendricks. He showed me how there are a variety of interpretations of John 3:16, but only one true meaning of the text. He also showed me the importance of the word “so” and the word “gave” in that verse which could not pertain to anyone but the elect. When God “gives” Christ, he gives all of Christ and all the benefits of Christ in his work; or as Dr. Hendricks said, “oblation.” That’s a fancy word that seems to capture the whole death of Christ. I must say, Dr. Hendricks is a very smart man, sir. But its not my conversation with him that was so important on that day, as it was what happened afterwards that got me thinking. Some seminary students gathered in the classroom as I was leaving. They were discussing Infant Baptism and Credo-Baptism and invited me to stay. I was glad they did, I learned a lot. What I found out was that some of those students were arguing certain points from ideas not really in the text. They assumed certain points instead of relying on the Bible to teach them those points. For instance, the Credo-Baptist thought there were specific texts that “taught” his position, whereas, while I was listening, they were simply deducing their own ideas from the texts that gave examples of baptism. There is no biblical text that shows a child born, growing up in a family, then coming to age, going to church, being accepted by the elders based on profession, and then baptism as a result of that profession at the Age of Accountability. You just don’t find it anywhere. That’s simply bad interpretation. You seem to be doing the same thing as they did. And in your sermons I was very surprised you haven’t seen that. It’d be the same if I said to the officer in charge of a crime scene that he was the murderer, just because I found him at the crime scene when I got there. That just doesn’t figure right, nor is it fair to the situation, or in our case, is it fair to the text at hand.” Columbo flipped a few more pages on his notepad and said, “I also found from looking through history books and commentaries on John 3:16, in the same manner that Calvin’s Institutes stand, that men like Augustine, Luther, Knox, Bucer, and many of the good Puritans like Owen, Gillespie and Rutherford do not believe your position. I was almost overwhelmed by the number in church history that disagrees with your interpretation of the text. Even Jonathan Edwards disagrees with you. I checked back with Dr. Hendricks and found that many of the modern days “Calvinists” actually do not hold to what the Reformers and Puritans taught concerning God’s Word here. I was very surprised indeed. As a matter of fact, I have put in an order to the bookstore to get a few copies of various books dealing with the subject. I really desire to understand this. Dr. Hendricks then suggested I read Turretini, Oh! I’m sorry sir, I mean Turretin, on the points concerning the compound and divided sense of the Bible. He was an Italian like me. We Italians gotta stick together.” Columbo smiled. “Turretin was such a great help. I didn’t read all of his works, I mean, there are hundreds of pages. But I did read his comments, which were very brief if I might add, on the “senses” of the Bible. What Turretin said caused me to think about the way I should look at the Bible. Sometimes God gives us the big picture and states things in that framework. For instance, He is immutable. Then He sometimes accommodates even further to our language barrier and says things like “He repents.” Both, if taken in the same sense, would be contradictory. God cannot be immutable and repenting at the same time and in the same sense. But taken in different senses, and I think Turretin is right to use those senses in his interpretation of the Bible, they are no longer contradictory because they are understood in different senses. This is ingenious hermeneutics. Have I told you how much I like that word “hermeneutics , sir?”
“Yes Lieutenant, you have.”
“So here is what I think. In the overall big picture, the eternal plan, God is immutable, and loves the elect savingly, and hates the reprobate eternally. But in the divided sense, or what I might refer to the “here and now” its different. He loved His covenant people Israel though all of Israel was not saved. He loves me in Christ, but previously hated me in Adam, and my sin is imputed to Christ so the wrath of God remains on Christ in that moment of eternal wrath on the cursed tree. That is why Turretin could say on the one hand that God loves all men – He follows them with a love, or goodness, that gives them life and breath – but then on the other hand, eternally hates them in Adam. See, there is then no contradiction. I summed it all up in a little illustration with my wife and it made things crystal clear. Imagine a 6-story apartment building, and you live on the top floor. When you look out over the backstretch, you see a park and a lake. Then let’s say there is someone who lives on the first floor. Now there are trees, cars, people and all sorts of other things in the line of sight that the person on the ground floor has in his way to see the lake. He really cannot tell whether it’s a lake or not. He may think it is a waterfall depending on his view of the water, or if he can see the water at all. But if he were to get in the elevator and travel up to the 6th floor, he would see everything clearly. This is why there are two senses and two ways of looking at the same lake. The compound and divided sense of the Bible, then, helps us to see how the two “seemingly contradictory” ideas are not contradicting at all. You have the expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” Well, its the same idea – the first is the compound sense, and the individual trees, or instances are the divided sense.”
“Hmmm.” The Pastor said. “I’ve never heard that before.”
Columbo winced, “Well sir, with some regret, I must say that some people believe your position to be on the road back to Pelagianism by the vehicle of Amyraldius—by the way, those were Dr. Hendricks’s words, but I think he’s right. Church history is very interesting, don’t you think?” Columbo didn’t let Pastor Brackel answer. Jesus cannot die for the whole world and then only for individuals. God cannot love everyone in Christ and then send them to hell in Christ. That is just a flat out contradiction if I ever heard one. But I think I know why you hold the position you hold.”
“Really Columbo, why’s that?” Pastor Brackel said somewhat upset.
“Well, on my way in here, I ran into Mr. Ridgley.”
Pastor Brackel closed his eyes and looked down for a moment.
“When I ran into him, I found that his visit with you was probably about the conversation we are having at this moment. Now he didn’t tell me that, but his other words lead me to believe that.”
Pastor Brackel looked up, “What words were those…” he asked.
“Well, I know he was your mentor and he is regarded highly by you, but I must say that God’s Word should dictate to us its truth rather than holding to a particular position because our mentor or friends do. We should have more of a conviction for the truth than for our friends. Just because the church has believed something all along doesn’t make it true. And that would go for all of church history. But the texts you chose, in overriding the numerous other texts of the bible on the issue that you ignored should have convicted you more than they have, I think that you have not rightly presented all the facts. It should not be because the church is a committed Reformed Church that they believe anything. And you shouldn’t be afraid of what the church might think over what God may think. I certainly hope you don’t’ think me to be difficult or hard on you. Pastor Brackel, I love you and I desire to be lead by you, but I can’t hold to a set of beliefs that include contradictions and skewed facts. The facts in this case don’t seem to show forth any help for your position.”
Columbo sat back in his chair and pulled out a cigar. He looked at his cigar and wiggled it in his hands. “You know, I really need to quit these things, but old habits die hard.”