Monthly Archives: August 2014

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” [Daniel 3:16-18 ESV]

Suffering for righteousness’ sake occurs because of the sinful actions of usurping God’s ultimate and absolute authority by those who deny God. Those who endure such suffering are those who know they belong to God even while working for and living with those who hate Him.

In the book of Daniel there are two significant times when those who belong to God would not violate their relationship with Him for the sinful dictates of the authorities.  Daniel, Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah each faced the unrighteous anger of the false religious peoples of their exile.

Like every other king Nebuchadnezzar thought himself above God, or at least equal to other gods. Those who surrounded him fed him their continual patronizing worship. By increasing their popularity with the king they maintained a comfortable and powerful lifestyle. Any danger to their arrangement brought immediate anger and fear and manipulation to maintain control.

When the king built a tall, impressive golden idol and commanded everyone to worship the idol, it did not matter that the thing was a lifeless piece of metal, precious as it was. People worshipped it on command. Nebuchadnessar could have built it out of cow patties, told them to worship it and they would have done so. He expected everyone to do what he commanded, no matter how bizarre. Except in his mind worshipping an idol was not bizarre.

When the king was told his three advisors would not obey his command and worship an idol he was furious. How dare they disobey him, the king. He threatened them with agonizing death if they did not immediately obey him.

Please note these men were his trusted advisors. They, with Daniel, were wiser than any of the other advisors to the king. They were not known for disobeying his commands. They carefully weighed the commands of the king against their growing relationship with God and never compromised the eternal with the temporary. Yet, when asked to place anything above God they politely refused.

Daniel was confronted by a similar experience. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom had ended and Darius, king of the Medes and Persians, was in power.

It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom 120 satraps, to be throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.  [Daniel 6:1-3 ESV]

He loved Daniel. His advisors hated Daniel. “Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God’” [Daniel 6:5 ESV].

They manipulated Darius to write a law which could not be voided or revoked. Everyone in his kingdom must pray to Darius and not to any other god for a period of time. Anyone who violated this law was fed to the lions. Without thinking Darius agreed. Daniel heard the law and immediately went to his home, opened the window facing toward Jerusalem, and prayed to God in front of all people. It was his custom to do so and he refused to hide. Darius, manipulated by his advisors was forced to uphold his law.

God saved these four men, who suffered for righteousness’ sake.  Hannaniah, Mishael and Azariah were not burned in the fire. Daniel was not eaten by lions. But other Christians, persecuted by the Caesars of Rome or other nations have been eaten by lions and burned with fire and killed in other ways. Those who are persecuted for righteousness show their allegiance, not to this world but for God.  We are members of His kingdom and our hope is in Him.

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. [Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV]

God’s promises are trustworthy because God is trustworthy.

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Macaiah

But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?”

And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah, but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” [1 Kings 22:7-8 ESV]

King Ahab knew what he wanted to do. He had already decided to wage war against the king of Syria. They had not fought for three years yet there was constant tension. When king Jehoshaphat, visiting from Jerusalem, he was drawn into Ahab’s conspiracy to attack Syria.

Ahab listened to the 400 prophets of Asherah who encouraged him to go to war. These were the prophets of Jezebel not slaughtered by Elijah on Mount Carmel because they knew better than to accept the invitation from a real prophet (see 1 Kings 18). They were false prophets serving a fictional god.

Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, wanted to hear from God before they attacked Syria. He asked to hear from a legitimate prophet of God and Macaiah was summoned. Ahab hated Micaiah because he told the truth  and never prophesied good about the king. Micaiah told the truth because this is what the true prophets of God speak. If they did not tell the truth then God commanded they die (see Deuteronomy 18:20).

Asherah’s false prophets spoke lies to the king, which he accepted as truth. Macaiah told the truth which Ahab considered bad advice. At the center of Ahab’s universe was himself and all reality must revolve around him. If it did not then the king, and his wife Jezebel, would conspire and murder and manipulate people until it did fit his expectations. Read 1 Kings 16:29 to the end of the book.

Ahab was the worst of a rebellious line of kings of the Northern kingdom of Israel. None of these kings followed God. Rebellion against God is rebellion against truth and the moral standards of truth which originate and come to fulfillment in God.

Micaiah spoke the truth of God because he was righteous in God’s eyes. His righteousness did not come from himself but from the God who made him righteous and put righteous words in his mouth.

And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah made for himself horns of iron and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘With these you shall push the Syrians until they are destroyed.’” And all the prophets prophesied so and said, “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the LORD will give it into the hand of the king.”

And the messenger who went to summon Micaiah said to him, “Behold, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king. Let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.”

But Micaiah said, “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” [1 Kings 22:11-14 ESV]

Micaiah knew this king, and knew the prophets of the demon Asherah. Knowing the king did not want to hear the truth he entered the presence of the kings and dismissively told Ahab to do what he wanted to do. Go to war with Syria. Be triumphant. Ahab didn’t believe him. His body language and unconcerned posture may have shown Ahab the prophets disdain for the king.

Before Jehoshaphat, whom Micaiah respected, Ahab declared he was to speak only the truth. So Micaiah told him the truth. Israel would be scattered. The king would be killed. Ahab’s false prophets had been given a lying spirit and the king would believe them.

One of the false prophets slapped Micaiah.  Then, Ahab ordered him into a prison cell, with only enough food to exist, until he returned from warring with Syria.

Micaiah’s retort was simple. “‘If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.’ And he said, ‘Hear, all you peoples!’” [1 Kings 22:28 ESV]. God’s message was not just for the king but for everyone present. Micaiah suffered because of the righteousness of God. He did not compromise the truth of God. He did not allow anyone to act as if God were not who He is. He spoke the words of God to a people who cared nothing for God. It was not Macaiah’s but God’s words Ahab considered evil.

We do not know if Micaiah was ever released from his prison cell after Ahab died. We can know God cared for him and did not abandon him, for God is trustworthy and takes to Himself those who stand for Him.

How many Christians stand for God and suffer for righteousness and have been forgotten by the world? They are never forgotten by God.

The Object of Persecution

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  [Matthew 5:10-11 ESV]

Persecution for righteousness’ sake is always undeserved suffering which means it is not deserved. Christ’s death was undeserved. This does not mean all violence against a Christian is because of God’s imputed righteousness. Christians are covered with the blood of Christ, the sentence for their sin placed upon His shoulders. But, Christians still sin. We still say things we should not. Do what we should not. Do not do what we should. Suffering which comes as a consequence of personal sin is not suffering for righteousness’ sake.

Suffering for righteousness’ sake does not come because of the Christian but because of Whom the Christian represents.

Living according to the righteous leading of the Spirit is the evidence of God’s blessing upon the Christian. Yet, God does not force the Christian to live according to the leading of the Spirit. Christians have wills. It is possible to grieve the Spirit of God by our rebellion. We must still obey as His servants would obey but often do only the bare minimum and sometimes not even that.

He tests those who are His. These tests are internal and external. How do we struggle against temptation and sin? Where is our resolve and our love for Him who redeemed us? Are we truly servants of the only God? Relinquishing control is internal, an act of the intelligence and the moral/emotional self shown through obedience which is shown in what we do daily. This daily living for Christ draws people to us, questioning our actions, forging opinion about why we do what we do. Our internal life is a preparation for eternity. Our external life is a witness for God who calls people to Himself.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” [1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV]

We are holy because of the God who created us, recreated us, and claims us for His own. If there is one thing Scripture teaches it is God’s holiness, His demand for holiness, and the complete rebellion of the world against Him.

Genesis 4 suggests there are only four people alive. They are Adam and Eve and their first two children, Cain and Abel. Abel offered a righteous sacrifice, according to the intimately known moral standards of God. Cain’s sacrifice was not righteous because Cain was not righteous. Cain killed Abel because God judged Abel’s sacrifice righteous, not because his brother was righteous. God’s work in us, in fitting us for eternity with Him, takes the murderous unrighteousness of Cain, found in everyone, and purges it through continuous testing and refining. We become obedient, leaving behind all acts of unrighteousness, embracing His holiness.

Yet, the world hates God’s holiness and His righteousness and all those who obediently follow Him. Being loved by God automatically means being hated by the world. Those who have rejected Him will reject anything which belongs to Him. The evidence of Christ’s life and sacrifice is neither meager or compromised but substantial and solid. We should never be surprised by the evidence of the world’s hatred for God. We should be concerned when the world does not “revile” and “utter all kinds of evil against you” because of obedience to Christ.

The object of persecution is not the Christian, even though it is Christians who receive the brunt of the physical, emotional, and intellectual violence. All persecution is directed toward God. Whether we admit it or not, everything begins with Him, revolves around Him, and ends with Him. We should not view ourselves but the God whom we serve as the object of persecution.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. [1Peter 4:1-5 ESV]

Expected Obedience

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:10-12 ESV]

God declares a standard of righteousness in the ten commandments or statements found in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Like all “rules of conduct” posted in may public establishments the need for the rules is predicated upon the behavior of the public. Most of the public will keep the rules as a normal part of their behavior. But there are some who do not care for the rules and enter with the intent of breaking them, sometimes just to see if they can get away with violating “someone else’s rules.”

God’s moral standard is inherent in the image of God found in all people. While the vessel is corrupt because the person is bent by sin, the image of God in them is not. People know when they are wrong because of the war between their bent away from God and the image in them pulling them toward Him. Man is created for relationship and obedience but compelled to rebel because of the corrupted nature of sin. What agony we endure.

Where there is a need to post “rules of conduct” there is obvious rebellion and even criminal motivations. Rules are posted to give the authorities the right to impose necessary restrictions, and even sentence, to maintain an orderly environment. Even though God embedded His image in people He stated His “rules” so there would be absolutely no excuse for sinful motivations and actions.

Persecution happens not because of the person but for what the person represents. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven represent the King, the standard of the King, the rule and reign and authority of the King. Those who live in rebellion toward the King cannot abide the presence of any who, by their lives, reveal the evidence of rebellion.

Sin affects everyone. Some may outwardly keep the moral standards of God but their motivations show otherwise. When Adam fell from grace, all fell from grace and are separated from God. After the fall the thinking, feeling and motivation of all people was only evil, all of the time. The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” [Genesis 6:5 ESV]. God wants a relationship with man but man wants nothing to do with God. God built us for relationship yet all refuse to know Him who created them.

God never asks anyone to do something. He tells, with every right and expectation of obedience. Remember, obedience carries no merit. It only takes one act of rebellion, one sin, to separate anyone from Him. Those who refuse the prompting of the Spirit, which is an expected command from God, continue in their rebellion and separation from Him.

One sin, the first sin of Adam, separated all from God. Jesus died for all sin. Now, one sin, a specific sin committed by the individual, separates each from God. He told Adam to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam did what he was told not to do. Now, He tells all to eat from the tree of life, which is Jesus. Many refuse.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” [John 6:53-56 ESV]

Those who have rejected and disobeyed His command are separated from Him and hate Him with a passion ranging from ambivalence to zeal. God’s statements measure, not man’s love for God but man’s hatred for Him who created them. Since they cannot touch God they turn their hatred on those who are His, whom they can touch.

Jesus tells us those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are blessed. Jesus is speaking about living according to the moral character of God embodied in the ten statements and the words of Christ. Persecution comes because of God and the relationship the Christian has with God.

God’s Tenth Statement

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. [Exodus 20:17 ESV]

“Covet” can also be translated desire, delight in, hold precious, consider delectable, lust for. There is a slight difference between the statement in Exodus and in Deuteronomy. And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house” [Deuteronomy 5:21]. Another word is used just before the list of valuables owned by your neighbor. “Desire” means to wish for or long after. You will not lust after your neighbor’s wife or wish for your neighbor’s possessions.

This is God’s last, but not final, statement to those who are His. Are these statements directed only at the people of the nation of Israel or toward all people? Though the statements were given to Moses, and the people of Israel required to follow them, the universal character of the statements demands they apply to all people.

All of the preceding statements point to the thinking of the heart in specific behaviors and how wrong thinking from the beginning brings rebellious activities. This statement lays bare the motivation of the heart, an indictment covering all sinful activity. Where there is one sin there is covetousness. Murderers covets the life of another while adulterers covet the spouse of another. Thieves covet property and liars covets control over truth. With covetousness comes all of the evidence needed to justify judgment, sentencing and execution of the sentence. This statement touches the fiber of every thought and act done by the person corrupted by sin.

Does not God begin these statements by driving home the reality that He alone is God, and that nothing and no one is to take His place? Are not every one of these statements designed to reveal God’s place and how His person, and our relationship with Him, is attacked and compromised or destroyed? You may have heard the worst sin a person can commit, the sin which was the downfall of Lucifer, the foundation for all other sin, is pride. It is not. God tells us plainly the motivation behind all sin.

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. [Isaiah 14:12-15 ESV]

Satan, Lucifer, the highest angel, wanted God’s place, which means he wanted God gone. His pride is evident but his desire and motivation is to usurp God and make himself higher than his Creator. He coveted God.

The thinking of our hearts are filled with the desires to have what is not ours, to be what we are not, to do what we cannot, to be held up as equal to God. We want to be self-righteous not poor in spirit. We want to be capable of controlling ourselves and our sin. We do not want to mourn over the reality and truth of the full extent of sin as it affects us and the world in which we live. Coveting is the illusion of control in out-of-control lives. It is the belief that only what we think and feel matters. It is the ultimate motivation behind all rebellion against God.

Paul writes to the Romans.

Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. [Romans 7:7-8 ESV]

Paul was the best Pharisee by his own admission. Yet, once redeemed by God, all of his righteous actions and attitudes he considered of no value for the sake of Christ. Why? Because he saw his life measured against Christ’s. He recognized the thinking of his heart was motivated by covetousness and every atom of his being was under God’s condemnation.

Those redeemed by Christ’s blood who remain in this world continue to struggle with covetousness. But our hope ceases to rest in our actions, our attitudes, the thinking of our hearts. Our hope rests in God’s grace. We are His testimony to the fallen world as He prepares us for eternity with Him.

God’s Ninth Statement

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. [Exodus 20:16 ESV]

God’s ninth statement demands we never bear (respond, sing, shout, testify, announce) false (that which is not true) witness (testimony, to record) against your neighbor (anyone). We are to tell the truth because this is the way we are created, as part of the image of God, and is expected by God.

These statements are explicit requirements founded on the eternal character of God and the laws under which we have been created. We cannot fulfill His expectations or be who we eternally are without naturally living according to God’s moral law. We are a reflection of His character, having His image.  Sin did not destroy the image but corrupted the vessel containing the image, making everything we do unacceptable. Still, God created us, sustains us, governs us, and gives us purpose.

Jesus began His sermon demanding we acknowledge the truth of sin and our absolute poverty of spirit before Him. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” [Matthew 5:3 ESV]. One of the characteristics of those who are poor in spirit is their love for the truth and their hatred of the lie. This is the driving motivation behind their confrontational lifestyle. They first confront the lies which have been trained into them, the lies of sin and self-righteousness. Then, they confront the lies of the world, which seek to remove God completely from the equation, from the pieces and sum total of self. If we can get Him out of one of the pieces then we can remove Him from the rest. He will not be removed from any part.

Those who persecute the followers of Christ because of their righteous relationship with God  attack truth, desperately trying to change it, demanding “truth” conform, not to God but to their sinful, arbitrary, even anarchist standard. Truth is integral to the eternal character of God. No one will come into God’s presence who has believed, taught and demanded rebellion against God by following a lie.

Just as murder tries to destroy the image of God in man and adultery the relationship of God with man, as stealing tries to devalue God’s authority over all things, so lying is an attempt to remove God from the equation of our lives. What we do reflects who we are and dictates what we will become. If what we do is based upon a lie then the evidence of who we are shows we are liars and will only reinforce and solidify us as those who hate the truth. God’s statements to us reach deeply into the heart of our relationship with Him, reflected in the relationships we have with everyone. But it especially reflects how we think of ourselves. We do not have the option to divorce our lives from those around us or from God. It is a whole package.

God gives an explicit statement. Do not lie to anyone about anything. He is not a liar and He did not create liars. Yet, we are liars. He tells us to not lie. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves we will see that all we can do, have done and will do is lie about every facet of our lives, our relationships, our thinking within the world. When you lie you are not doing what is eternally natural to God and showing the evidence of a corrupted nature.

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (cited from Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 53:1-3)

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” (cited from Psalm 5:9)

“The venom of asps is under their lips.” (cited from Psalm 5:9)

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” (cited from Psalm 140:3)

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery,  and the way of peace they have not known.” (cited from Isaiah 59:7-8, see Proverbs 1:15-17)

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (cited from Psalm 36:1]  [Romans 3:9-18 ESV]

Jesus tells us to expect persecution because of our relationship with Him, because of the righteousness given us by Him. We are compelled by the Spirit of God to see and know truth. Yet, we remain ensconced in a temporary but corrupted body which tends to rebellion. Our hope is only in the truth of Christ’s person.

God’s Eighth Statement

You will not steal. [Exodus 20:15 ESV]

Within Adam’s rebellion is, in some way, the violation of every one of the absolute statements of God found in the ten commandments. Yet, if there was one obvious crime it was Adam taking something which did not belong to him. He was given every tree in the garden but the fruit of one tree. We do not know if he plucked the fruit for Eve to take the first bite. We do know he took a bite. This simple act tells us Adam stole from God.

Stealing is taking for yourself anything which does not belong to you. Most of the time when someone steals from another it has nothing to do with persecution. Yet, stealing is a direct assault on righteousness and the just standards of God inherent in the image of God given man.

All of these statements reflect the thinking of the heart showing how each believes and acts upon their understanding of God. If murder is an attempt to destroy God by unjustly killing one who has the image of God then murder must first start in the heart. If adultery is an attempt to destroy the relationship one may have with Him whose image we carry, then, it too, must first start in the heart. So stealing first begins in the heart as an action meant to degrade any relationship with Him.  Since God cannot be touched we grab what we can from His creation. Murder is a failed attempt to devalue the image of God. Adultery is a failed attempt to a relationship with God. What then is stealing a failed attempt to do?

Stealing is an attempt to replace the value God gives to an object with the thief’s standard giving the thief illegitimate control. Thieves steal more than objects. They steal control. Part of the image of God given, and corrupted by sin, is dominion. Originally, God gave Adam dominion, or control, over earthly creation (see Genesis 1:26-27).

When Adam sinned he did not lose the image of God but he, the vessel which contained the image, was corrupted. He was given control exercising the authority given by God as God’s representative to the world. As he rebelled against God so the world rebelled against him. Integral to the sentence was the frustration and anger Adam would experience because of the loss of control.

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” [Genesis 3:17-19 ESV]

Why did this happen? Adam stole from God, doing the one thing he was told to not do. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan to grasp for control over that which was God’s. Adam’s rebellion and theft resulted in a war to wrest control over the world, over other people, over things, over God. Satan tempted Eve and Adam to view the fruit of the tree as having a value not given by God. The thinking of their hearts were led away from the truth.

Everything created belongs to the One who created everything. When we claim anything as our own we say it does not belong to God and we try to steal from Him. Our place is to acknowledge all, including ourselves, belongs to Him. If He owns everything then He, and He alone, assigns value to that a thing. We do not have the right to replace the value God has given with our own. Doing this devalues the thing only in our eyes and in the thinking of our hearts. Finally, nothing but people will exist for eternity. To say a thing has more value than assigned by God suggests it is worth having more than a relationship with God.

If your are His then when you die only what is truly valuable will go with you into eternity. Everything you value in this world will stay in this world. What does God value? Himself, His Word, and the people He created. Jesus did not die for anything in this world but the people created in the image of God.

While the motivation, the thinking of the heart, behind persecution is a direct attack on God and His ambassadors in this world, a war against righteousness, it may contain the desire to own that which belongs to the Christian. Most thefts are an attack on the standard of righteousness and only incidentally against the  temporal owner of the stuff. Whether the theft is motivated by hatred toward the person it remains and act of hatred toward God. Stealing is a failed attempt to control God.